For the second half of the submarine cable workshop Sunday morning, a roundtable is being held examining the various ways companies are extending the life of cables or repurposing them, sponsored by SubOptic.
The moderator for the discussion is Elaine Stafford, managing partner of The David Ross Group (DRG), USA.
Participating in the roundtable are Stuart Barnes, general manager of submarine for Xtera Communications, Inc., United Kingdom; Raynald Leconte, CEO of Orange Marine, Orange, France; John Hibbard, CEO of Hibbard Consulting Pty Ltd, Australia; Bernard Logan, business development director of Mertech Marine Ltd, South Africa; Larry Moskowitz, principal technical consulting engineer of undersea cable operations and maintenance for AT&T, USA; Keith Schofield, director of submarine networks for Pioneer Consulting, United Kingdom; and Seymour Shapiro, a U.S. consultant.
In her opening comments, Stafford goes into the large number of cables that are approaching their expected lifespan and about how those cables are being used to make small, local networks.
According to Stafford, since 2006 there have been seven recycled networks that have been installed and commissioned in the Paciffic, Caribbean and Atlantic. Several of these extend between 1000 to 2000 km long. So far, they have reliably provided service since their installation. All of those were recycled from cables installed in the mid-90s.
“Recylcling is a proven and affordable alternative to a new system in certain situations,” Stafford said. “The cost benefit is worth it in certain situations.”
Stafford turns the conversation to Hibbard.
“Fiber is the key to connectivity these days.” Hibbard explains that cables are essential in the modern world. Satellites don’t provide the capacity needed to take part in the world stage for remote, low-populatioin island nations. Recycled cables may proved an affordable alternative to similar nations.
According to Hibbard, the recycled cable option could significantly reduce initial capital cost, making fiber an affordable option for some regions.
Also, given the low population of those regions, the required capacity isn’t going to overwhelm the older generation fiber cables.
“Recycling is a great green option,” Hibbard said. The practice of recycling cleans the seabed of old cables.
Moskowitz takes the stage to talk about some of the technical and commercial issues.
His first point is that the success of the system depends on good line design, which includes experienced vendors and information from the cable and repeaters that are being repurposed.
Working with experienced marine operators who have done work with recovered systems before is also important.
In some cases, a cost/benefit will be something considered, line in cases where armored cable can’t be recovered. In some cases it may be cheaper to produce fresh cable.
He finished with the point that local laws and fisherman’s right have to be considered in the issue.
The conversation is taken up by Shapiro who goes into the reliability of recycled systems.
According to data he presents for the discussion, the average lifespan and reliability of a cable and repeater is 25 years. This depends on the known history of reliability to the system as well.
Using a cable for a recycled system can produce a network that has the potential to last a number of years, Shapiro said. This can depend on the history of the cable used and the quality of maintenance of the system.
“I think the major risk and unknown is the potential damage during recovery and, to a lesser extent, during deployment.”
Any damage that is found has to be repair on site and extends ship time. Worse, Shapiro says, is the latent damage that may cause problems only a few years down the line.
“Cable reuse and cable recycling has to be decided on a case-by-case basis.”
Barnes takes the discussion into the system design perspective and repeaters are the key.
According to him, network transmission capability and reliability are both largely determined by the repeaters. Replacing repeaters can improve both, but is not always warranted.
The network cost savings afforded by recycling can change based on new or recycled repeaters, but the cost is largely determined by cable and recovery cost.
System cost can change measurably depending on cost of recovery.
By Barnes’ reckoning, there are three systems in question for a new connection: recycled cable and repeater, recycled cable with new repeater, and a new system. Deciding the cost/benefit is the important aspect of the process.
The three things that cause concern are fiber reliability, electrical reliability and any optic components.
Continuing the discussion is Leconte, who is speaking on his company’s direct experience with recycled cable systems.
“We found that less than one percent of the cable was not of quality.” In the two projects involving recovering a cable and recycling it into a new system, FT-Marine found that most all of the recovered cable and repeaters were still fully functional and they used no new products for the project.
They tested the cable and the repeaters during the recovery phase and the new system was constructed on board the ship during recovery.
There were enough recovered repeaters that some went into the maintenance reserve.
Finally, Leconte said that reusing existing landing points vastly simplified the process.
Logan added a very different slant on the issue of recycling. Namely, when recycling is uneconomical, salvage it anyway.
According to Logan, the benefits of recovery includes continuous third party risks, it frees up sea floor routes, you can recycle it for the various materials like steel, copper and poly.
Logan’s company has three ships that has recycled 17,000 km of cable for it’s materials, which he says has a clear environmental benefit.
According to logan’s data, recycling 8000 km of cable saves up to 286,000 tons o CO2 emissions.
“We’re picking up old cable and breaking it down for its commodities. Out technique of picking up the cable is a light technique in terms of fuel usage.”
Speaking last will be Schofield speaking about the SubOptic Working Group.
“What we’ve heard from the panelists is the best suggestion possible.”
According to Schofield, SubOptic has gathered a working group devoted to extending the life and usage of cable systems.
“This group is coving both extending system life and relay.”
So far, in a years time they hope to report back to the industry about issues and possible solutions.
“This has been our opportunity as an industry to frame the debates. We want investors to know exactly what the issues are.”
Reliability continues to be an important issue.
The panel finished at 12:30 p.m. exactly.