Cable Breaks Plague Asian Subsea Cable Operators

Frequent cable breaks plague the Asian subsea sector, with fishing vessels being the main cause. New builds are being prepared after delays.By Robert Clark, Light Reading
July 19, 2023

The Asian subsea sector has been plagued with frequent cable breaks, according to a senior executive from Telstra, the region's biggest submarine bandwidth player.

Paul Abfalter, head of North Asia and wholesale for the Australian telco, said cable cuts were the “hottest topic” for Asian submarine bandwidth providers.

“Subsea is existentially critical to Asia, perhaps more so than other regions,” he told an online forum.

According to the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC), Asia is the worst region for cable cuts. Availability of cables in the region so far this year had fallen below 90%, compared to the global figure of 98%.

Abfalter said Telstra had experienced more than ten cuts to its subsea infrastructure this year, including the C2C, EAC and AAG cables.

Although the region has some seismic hotspots, fishing vessels are far and away the biggest cause of cable breaks, he said.

Most cables in the region had been installed in the early 2000s and were buried at 1m or less below the seafloor. The arrival of new and well-equipped fishing vessels meant many could penetrate to that depth, with the problem exacerbated by a post-covid surge in fishing activity.

Additionally, red tape in many Asia-Pacific countries is slowing down repairs. Cable operators often have to wait up to two to three months for approvals, especially if the cable break is in international waters, Abfalter said.

Supply chain bottlenecks

However, he acknowledged that Telstra and other cable operators were enjoying the continued slowdown in bandwidth price erosion.

Marvin Tan, a TeleGeography research analyst, says this is mostly a result of supply chain bottlenecks, which has led to delays in both cable upgrades and new cable builds.

“We have been hearing the [supply chain] has been improving, but it is not back to normal because of the continued evidence of slow price erosion,” he said.

In response to the years of delay, a worldwide surge in cable construction is now underway, led by trans-Pacific and intra-Asian cables.

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