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Undersea Cable Expansion May Create AV Opportunities

Sep 13, 2006 8:00 AM


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Moving audio and video data over fiber-optic cables holds growing appeal for corporate users as well as education specialists, government applications, and anyone else who needs to move a lot of data, accurately and securely, without having to compress, repeat, or boost it.

This growing interest, though, may run up against some limitations in the physical infrastructure —the amount of actual fiber available to carry all of this data.

Users with global needs, in particular, may also be affected by a boom in building undersea cable links. Telecom industry research firm Telegeography reported recently that Internet traffic on the major transatlantic cables jumped 42 percent between 2004 and 2005. The growth is continuing, as reflected in the fact that major cable owners are announcing upgrades and expansions, and telecoms and other users are signing major contracts to secure bandwidth on these cables. Telegeography estimates that by the end of 2006, transatlantic cables will have a total “lit” capacity of nearly 3,000Gbps.

Just last week, Flag Telecom, a U.S. based provider of international network and communication services, announced that its new undersea cable system had become operational, linking India to 11 nations in the Middle East. The 7,370mi. fiber-optic cable will carry data at 2.56Tbps, the company says, and it marks the first fiber cable link between India and the Middle East, where more than 3.5 million Indians are employed.

Of course, a large component of this growing transatlantic traffic is voice communications, but corporate data flows also increasingly include data for video and other AV applications. Videoconferencing, in particular, is accounting for an ever-larger slice of a pie that, itself, continues to expand.

Late last year, IDC predicted that video was a key drive for the move to fiber access in the United States and Europe, and, to a lesser extent, Asia. This trend will boost the worldwide market for fiber access equipment to approximately $1.9 billion in 2009, IDC says.

All of this growth is the latest swing of a long-running story in which bandwidth gluts and squeezes have regularly succeeded each other.

The expansion of available international fiber capacity is good news for corporate and other AV users partly because it makes expanded conferencing and other activities possible, but also because observers expect growing capacity to promote price declines in the short term.

A second area of opportunity is also arising, however. As carriers upgrade to higher-capacity, more modern fiber cables, what happens to the old ones?

Some owners will simply disconnect them. But since many submarine fiber-optic cables were installed around the early 1990s, with projected service lives of 25 years, they’re mostly working just fine. They’re just obsolete for current telecom and Internet purposes.

Some of this capacity is being taken over by universities and other users for research. The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, for example, is a consortium of universities whose recent discussions with AT&T and British Telecom may enable the research group to transmit data from seismic and other sea-floor observation devices using older submarine fiber cables.

There have been some complexities in dealing with European regulations requiring the removal of old cables from national waters. But if these issues can be resolved, “obsolete” submarine fiber-optic cables may soon be at the service of higher education.



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