Southern Cross Subsea Cable Network route survey
Everyone connected | Network | Tech and Innovation |

Keeping Australia connected to the world

By Harry Tucker December 18, 2021

A lot of us think that every Instagram post we upload, Tweet we send or movie we stream comes to Australia through satellites, but the truth lies at the depths of our oceans.

For Australians, about 99% of our digital connectivity to the rest of the world comes through underwater subsea cables. We currently own or operate about 400,000km of these cables across the ocean floor – so much in fact, that you could lap the world 10 times with that amount of cable.

Just about every bit of communication we make goes through these cables. From calling your family overseas to streaming Formula 1 and versing someone in Fortnite from Singapore. Basically anything and everything.

A short history of subsea cables

Australia’s first subsea cable went from Darwin to Indonesia almost 150 years ago. Back then, it wasn’t for streaming Netflix, but was rather a telegraph cable that essentially transmitted Morse code. Transmitting just one word back then could take several minutes.

The first major advancement in Australia’s subsea cables came in the 1960s with our first telephone cable which connected Sydney to Canada via New Zealand called COMPAC and cost over $100 million to complete. It might seem like a bit of a weird connection , but this was because it connected Commonwealth countries. Not only did this cable allow us to make phone calls to New Zealand and Canada, it also was crucial for airports and shipping companies to be able to communicate. COMPAC and other Commonwealth cables such as SEACOM (Cairns to Hong Kong) and ANZCAN (replaced COMPAC), were officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

The COMPAC cable was the first of many analogue cable systems that connected Australia to the rest of the world, but as the internet started to gain popularity in the 1990s they were no longer enough to carry the huge of amounts of data growth that was to come.

This ushered in the era we are in now of optical fibre cables, capable of 1000s of times the amount of capacity as traditional analogue cables. Using rapid pulses of laser light carried by hair-thin glass strands, this new technology could transmit data at much higher capacity and drastically reduce delay, or latency as it’s often called.

Our first fibre cable was called the TASMAN2 and connected Australia with New Zealand from 1992, capable of transmitting around 1 gigabit per second, or about as much as a lot of individual homes can now access just on their own.

Just 9 years later, cables we were laying, like the Australia-Japan cable were now capable of speeds of up to 640 gigabits per second state of the art at the time.

Keeping the light on

Manufacturing, laying and connection subsea cables across the ocean is a big task on its own, but maintaining them can sometimes prove almost as difficult.

Some of our cables run thousands of metres underwater, with one cable connecting us to Guam that crosses the Mariana Trench, the deepest water in the planet. So fixing one of these is not quite the same as pulling the manhole off on the side of the road.

Even just getting the grappling hook down to the cable to get to it to repair any damage can take a whole day just to reach it.

Thankfully though, it’s quite rare for damage to occur at these depths, as most damage to subsea cables is caused by fishing gear and ship anchors. So most damage happens in relatively shallow waters of around 100-1000 metres below the surface where fishing activity is more likely to take place and get caught up with.

We also sometimes see damage happen due to subsea earthquakes or from big landslides after cyclones and typhoons. But as technology gets better at marine surveying, these are becoming less of an issue as we can use advanced sonar techniques to better understand the environment we lay these cables in.

While surveying, our teams have even discovered underwater volcanoes that have never been recorded before, which we of course avoid routing the cables near.

60 years ago if a cable went down it might cause a big problem with our ability to connect. These days with such a diverse and large network path, if a cable is broken and getting repaired, which can take about a week, it’s less of an issue. Now we’re able to reroute traffic to other cable segments.

With a growing demand for data and connecting to the world, we continuously need to upgrade or commission new cables. Our latest subsea cable is called INDIGO and connects Singapore, Perth, Sydney and Jakarta, with a mammoth 36 terabit capacity, enough to steam millions of movies a second.

We’ve come a long way from the days of waiting minutes to send a single word from Darwin to Indonesia.

Connecting Australia to the world is why.

Southern Cross Subsea Cable Network route survey
Business and Enterprise | Network |

Keeping the world online during COVID-19

By Oliver Camplin-Warner May 28, 2020

When COVID-19 sent workers out of their offices and into their homes, people wanted one thing more than masks, gloves and toilet paper – they wanted data, and lots of it. While we’ve been ensuring the health and safety of our team is our top priority, this explosion in demand for data – which has set new records on an almost daily basis – has seen us working around the clock to maintain our international network during this pandemic.

Our international network sees a dizzying amount of traffic on any given day, but the increase in data being sent back-and-forth during COVID-19 is truly massive. Data demands have spiked significantly, seemingly overnight, by up to 50% on our international networks.

The mission

Telstra International works to connect the world to Asia, and Asia to the world. We’re proud to have the largest subsea cable network in the Asia-Pacific region, also spanning the crucial trans-Pacific route to connect the world.

Threading more than 400,000kms under the ocean floor, it circles the world almost 10 times. These connections are submerged beneath the waves, meaning that protecting, maintaining and innovating them is a full-time job for our cross-regional team. We’re always striving for better connectivity via subsea cables.

But when the pandemic hit, we realised that we needed to double down on our mission and ensure our network – which provides crucial connectivity for applications and platforms around the world – stays strong, connected and resilient for not only our customers, but our customers’ customers.

We’ve managed to keep our network alive and thriving thanks to the substantial capacity and headroom we have available to cater for unexpected traffic peaks.

Subsea cable repairs

Staying connected

The sudden and significant spike in traffic has come from several sources – the upticks in use of video for work, play and education, as well as large-scale Software as a Service (SaaS) adoption from companies moving their businesses online.

We found early on that people wanted to stay informed, entertained and even well-educated. Research by cybersecurity firm, Imperva, found that network traffic increased dramatically for news (+64%); retail (+28%); gaming (+28%); education (+17%), and law/government services (+17%). Meanwhile, there was a decrease in network traffic related to sports (-46%); travel (-42%), and automotive (-35%).

Companies rapidly adopting online tools such as Cisco WebEx and Microsoft Office 365 are particularly keen to ensure their connectivity stays strong during this time, and we’re working hard to enable this pivot.

For example, we’ve upgraded WebEx links to data centres as we experience huge increases in the number of virtual meetings taking place. We have seen WebEx traffic grow significantly and globally, while Cisco traffic in March increased by 66% compared to pre-global lockdown.

We’re also splitting traffic to allow direct access to Office 365 and WebEx without clogging up corporate networks that may not have the headroom we do.

We connect 11 of the top 12 technology companies in the Fortune 500 to Asia. As such, we’re continuing to work hard with all of our relevant partners on increasing capacity within their networks to keep up with the demand and deliver data efficiently. We’ll continue this work post-COVID-19 as businesses continue to change the way they work.

Our people are also working hard across the Asia-Pacific region to enable this boost to our connectivity stack. When the pandemic broke out, our first and top priority was the health and wellbeing of our team. As seasoned workers from home, we were able to quickly move to remote working, with those who couldn’t split into A and B-teams across Hong Kong and Singapore, with one team working in the main Network Operations Centre and the second working in a back-up facility to build resilience in our people as well as our network.

Meanwhile, our cable maintenance ships worked with port operators around Asia to ensure they could continue working on our network at sea. We pre-booked hotel rooms in the region to hold crews for 14-days prior to a ship coming in so that they were cleared to board the ship when it was time to changeover. And to keep ships operational, we used supply vessels to replenish stock at sea.

We’re always ready to roll with changing circumstances to keep the world connected.

The demand for data is unlikely to drop, even as restrictions are scaled back around the world. Our networks are already designed to manage a significant increase in traffic with minimal impact on services, which is critical during times like these.

We’ve assessed the utilisation of our network between countries and continents, as different areas respond in different ways to the pandemic, which allows us to implement business continuity planning to ensure we’re keeping the network performing for everyone who needs it.

Close-up of man using voltmeter in factory
Network |

Network evolution in 2020 and beyond

By Andrew Hankins January 20, 2020

Standing at the outset of a new decade, it’s tempting to indulge in far-reaching predictions and flights of fancy as we imagine what could happen over the next ten years. But, looking at the international network industry, it’s clear we are in a time of steady evolution rather than a radical revolution.

So how will connectivity continue to evolve beyond 2020, and what are the challenges and opportunities for infrastructure providers and operators, Over The Top (OTTs) over an IP network and carriers?

Changing consumption drivers

Firstly, it is critical to explore how and why consumption is changing.

Recent research by TeleGeography has found that demand for international bandwidth is more than doubling every two years, a trend consistent with what Telstra is seeing on its leading APAC subsea network.

That’s being driven by use cases like business data and video, but also by growing consumer trends. Take the boom in online gaming as an obvious case in point.

Data use from gaming is less than video streaming (for now) – as Kotaku notes, “data use from gaming is much lower than streaming video: on average, games will only use around a third of the data of streaming Netflix in SD, let alone HD or 4K streaming.”

Yet, whether it’s FIFA, Fortnite, or League of Legends, online gaming is a big business that requires significant capacity, global connectivity, and reliable availability and latency.

To meet this demand, companies are investing in existing networks and in new infrastructure.

The centre of gravity for connectivity-driven growth is shifting toward Asia, which comprises both developed and fast-growing economies.

That emphasis is acting as a catalyst for both consumption and investment. At the regional level, the pace of international bandwidth demand growth will be the most rapid in Asia where demand is expected to increase 45% compounded annually between 2018 and 2025.

Underpinning that demand are a range of new and improved routes for data to travel across the globe. Cables with a combined construction cost of USD$7.9 billion entered service between 2016 and 2018. Based on publicly announced planned cables, an additional $7.4 billion worth of new cables will be launched between 2019 and 2021.

The impact of SDM submarine cables

The introduction of coherent optical technology has improved total optical power (TOP) and the Optical Signal to Noise Ratio (OSNR), enabling more data to be transmitted through a fibre optic cable. Maximising capacity per fibre pair has become the driver in submarine cable development. In the last 18 months, however, this has changed with the advent of Space Division Multiplex (SDM) cables. While such cables offer lower capacity and OSNR per fibre pair, in some instances they almost carry double the number of fibre pairs at the same cost point.

Reducing the power per fibre pair also allows for a larger number of repeaters and fibre pairs in a system. While it was rare to see cables of more than six fibre pairs a few years ago, SDM cables are now designed with up to 16 fibre pairs or more.

The increasing adoption of SDM increases the overall cost-efficiency of international networking – enabling lower unit and capacity costs on high volume routes or traffic between data centres. Yet that also increasingly commoditises that connectivity, particularly on major, high volume routes.

The challenge for carriers will be underlining the value inherent in additional service layers to customers.

Investment in unique routes as a differentiator

OTTs and cable providers are increasingly differentiating by investing in diversity and uniqueness across their infrastructure. For example, we have invested heavily in the uniqueness of our routes in areas often affected by natural disasters.

Our investment in the HKA route, coupled with our unique Taiwan overland route, allow us to bypass the disaster-prone Luzon Strait in connecting to Hong Kong. This offers significant benefits to customers looking for the reassurance and reliability such diversity offers.

With many of our customers building their own overlay networks, data centre to data centre connectivity is becoming increasingly critical, requiring unique and diverse pathing beyond cables alone to drive end-to-end connectivity.

While there is an increasing trend toward such investment, it remains costly and time-consuming. Realising those benefits requires investment in licensing costs, backhaul networks, and regulatory approvals and compliance.

That’s why access to existing infrastructure is still critical – and ownership of multiple cable segments landing across key Asian markets like Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan and Korea enables improved management and control.

These developments in networking infrastructure underline the importance of partnership between stakeholders, relying on expertise and experience in the planning, creation, and management of global networks.

We are one of the leaders in transporting the data that enables millions of consumers and businesses to connect to the Internet and with each other around the world.

Our subsea network is a key part of our international growth strategy, enabling the services we provide to large and emerging cloud and content companies, global and regional mobile and service providers, as well as multinational corporations requiring connectivity across APAC.

Telstra will continue to invest to maintain our network leadership. This includes a commitment to investing in additional capacity on the Australia to US route, as well as investing in terrestrial networks in Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines, to expand on our already unique positions there.

Subsea cables connecting the world
Business and Enterprise | Network |

Boosting Australia’s connection to the world with Southern Cross

By Michael Ebeid AM October 2, 2019

As we continue to develop the fast, high-capacity, low-latency networks that connect Australians to each other, we must also think about how we connect to the rest of the world. That’s why we’ve been working hard with our partners at the Southern Cross Cable Network to strengthen our investment in current infrastructure while planning for future growth.

72,000 leagues under the sea

You could be forgiven for thinking that connectivity between countries was predominately handled by satellites and other space-based infrastructure. In fact, the real solutions are buried deep beneath the waves. Subsea cables form a crucial part of our international network infrastructure.

Telstra operates the largest intra-Asia subsea cable network in the region, and we’re growing our footprint in Asia-Pacific with critical new cable paths. Our subsea cable network currently spans more than 400,000 kilometres – or just under 72,000 nautical leagues – under the sea. Jules Verne would be proud!

Such a vast network is enough to circle the globe more than 10 times over. This elaborate and impressive network of fibre optic cables continues to expand as we keep pace with the voracious appetite Australians have for high-speed data. But more than just planning for capacity, we’re mindful that we need to build resiliency at the same time as speed.

That’s where our investment with Southern Cross Cable Network comes in.

Almost 80 per cent of all internet traffic to Australia comes from the US, which makes the need for a high-speed and low-latency connection between our two nations paramount. Our new investment in the Southern Cross Cable Network’s (SCCN) existing cable infrastructure as well as the upcoming NEXT cable is about safeguarding that connectivity for the future.

Telstra has acquired a 25 per cent equity interest in the existing Southern Cross Cable Network, joining existing shareholders in the project. It follows several other investments in our subsea cable infrastructure, including:

  • A significant increase in fibre capacity to our subsea infrastructure using Infinera’s Infinite Capacity Engine 4, and
  • The launch of a new rapid restoration service on our assured availability “Always on” service – a world-first offering to key routes in Asia – reducing restoration time from within eight hours to just minutes.

The investment in Southern Cross builds on our existing footprint across Asia-Pacific where we carry over 30 per cent of the region’s active capacity.

Alongside these investments, we’re excited to also partner with SCCN as one of the anchor customer for its upcoming NEXT cable. Designed to carry 72 Terabits per second of traffic, the equivalent of simultaneously streaming 4.6 million ultra-high definition movies, Southern Cross’s NEXT will meet our customers’ growing data requirements well into the future.

With the completion of the Southern Cross NEXT cable scheduled for January 2022, Telstra customers will have access to capacity across the three routes across the Pacific, connecting Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the United States, maximising diversity and resiliency.

Thanks to our subsea investments, we are now well placed to meet the growing data requirements of our customers now and into the future, right across the Asia-Pacific region.

Two girls using a tablet
Business and Enterprise | Network |

Making sure our undersea cables are always on

By Nadya Melic July 11, 2019

Our subsea cables are unsung connectivity heroes. Every day, terabytes of data are passed through these routes as they sit under the surface of some of the busiest and most turbulent seas in the world. Their importance can’t be overstated, which is why we’re making sure that from today they’re always on.

Together with Ericsson and Ciena, we’re turning on what’s called continuous connection for our subsea cabling. Using Ciena’s GeoMesh Extreme solution, we’re able to build an ‘always on’ service that reconnects interrupted subsea cable traffic in minutes, not hours. This means automatic reconnection and greater resiliency on our routes from Singapore to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Japan and Japan to Singapore.

We have the largest subsea cable network in the Asia Pacific, and protecting it means making sure everyone knows where these invisible backbones of the internet are so they can take care.

We work with commercial transport vessels to ensure they know the location of our cables via the Automatic Identification System (AIS) while also meeting local fishing vessel crews and unions to let them know where our cables are. These fishing vessels are also given ways to contact us just in case they catch a cable instead of a fish.

Because of the care we’ve taken educating and protecting our infrastructure, we’ve achieved a 30 per cent reduction in impacts to our network service year-on-year. And with our always-on service now going live, we’re further improving uptime and resiliency.

Now if a route is damaged or interrupted, our always on technology will be able to switch traffic to another cable within minutes. Previously this process would have taken hours of work. This now means that our carrier customers (such as financial services organisations and cloud service providers) can improve their service level agreements (SLAs) to provide better uptime to their customers.

We’ve already been helping cloud service providers do business faster and with greater reliability on our Asia Pacific routes during testing, and with the official launch, we’re excited to bring these improvements to all our customers.