Regarding the Building Blocks of System Development

As published in the March Issue of SubTel Forum Magazine

by Kristian Nielsen
March 30, 2022

Over the last year I’ve touched on elements of system development when having an expert on your side of the negotiating table is absolutely critical. In this exciting edition, I’d like to outline to steps and procedures typical in the review and acceptance of the most core elements of system development – the system design, desktop study and associated site visits.

These three elements are where the proverbial rubber meets the road, where years of planning come to bear fruits. Having a qualified consultant on your side of the table is absolutely critical in managing the volume and technical nature of the documents required.

Reviewing the System Design

Your consultant will assist you in developing and monitoring the Design Review and Technology Demonstrations of the Submarine System, resulting in a System Design Review Report.

Within an agreed period of the Contract in Force date, the supplier will need to conduct a Design Review covering the technology and design principles of major components of the System. You will only have influence over those aspects of the design that relate to the Company connections (or to where design is not in line with agreed premise or demonstrates clear deficiencies). The supplier will also provide updates on the status of any outstanding qualifications in the Monthly Reports.

Your consultant should attend Design Review meetings and Technology Demonstration to assess the compliance of the marine plant against the system Technical Specification. Your consultant should utilize its experience and expertise in similar systems and, where appropriate, obtain feedback from Supplier. In addition, your consultant should apply the following quality procedures to review and assess the design developed by the supplier:

  • ICPC Recommendation 2, Issue 10, Cable Routing and Reporting Criteria
  • ICPC Recommendation 3, Issue 9A Telecommunications Cable and Oil Pipeline/Power Cables Crossing Criteria
  • ICPC Recommendation 9, Issue 4, Minimum Technical Requirements for a Desktop Study

The System Design Review Report review will include assessment of qualification results for raw material suppliers, wet plant design qualification including the cable design, cable repairs, jointing boxes, couplings, and universal joint. All the qualification reports should be reviewed and commented upon by a qualified QA Consultant.

Your consultant will accomplish a Methods of Procedure (MOP) for the Design Review effort, delineating the specific who, what, when and where before the effort begins.

In its System Design Review Report, your consultant will provide assurance of the submarine system design, specifically around your connection to the system with a view to ensure:

  • System design and construction is to standard industry practices, e.g., ICPC, ITU
  • System is within your system philosophy
  • System meets your end-to-end requirements
  • System costs within normal industry parameters
  • System is robust and reliable
  • System is expandable and upgradeable
  • System will work at the outset and for its design life of 25 years.

Your consultant will then accomplish for you a detailed and expansive System Design Review Report. This effort is usually accomplished by your consultant’s in-office QA personnel.

Reviewing the Desktop Study & Cable Route Engineering Report

The purpose of the Cable Route Engineering Review Report is to assess the suitability of the proposed submarine cable route, installation methodology and type of cable deemed to be most suitable for the installation environment. This effort is critical to the development of the overall system – without such a review and confirmation of the CRE, there is a risk of manufacturing the incorrect amount of cable required for the system. In the best case scenario, this will unnecessarily add to the overall cost of the system. In the worst case scenario, you run out of cable or won’t have enough spares available for eventual repairs.

Reviewing the Site Surveys and Conducting In-field Visits

The purpose of the Site Survey Review Report is to assess the suitability of the proposed landing sites and confirm the ability to construct terrestrial infrastructure that reaches the landing sites.

Your consultant will accomplish, with other applicable contractors, site visits to your various proposed shore-ends. Your consultant will travel to and perform site visit survey representation for the duration of the site visit operations. Any concerns with the nature of the landings, terrain, environment, local issues, etc., will be noted and discussed. Your consultant will accomplish a Site Survey Report regarding data collected during the site visit. The Site Survey Report serves as a reference for the Route Development Study and permitting activity.

Your consultant will accomplish a MOP for the Site Survey effort, delineating the specific who, what, when and where before the effort begins.

This effort is typically accomplished by Your consultant’s in-field you Representative personnel.

Accomplishing the In-field Site Surveys

Your consultant will accomplish site visits in accordance with ICPC Recommendation No. 9 Minimum Technical Requirements for a Cable Route Study.

The objectives of the site visits to potential landing sites and locations are to determine their suitability and gather data necessary to include the following, non-exclusive, factors for the subsequent reporting. Specifically, Your consultant will:

  • Determine existing infrastructure for landing and terminating a submarine cable
  • Identify suitable locations to land the submarine cable and construct or refurbish suitable landing facilities (for example landing stations, beach manholes, system earthing facilities and ducts) if no existing infrastructure exists (include latitude/longitude positions and photographs of the area in the site and DTS report)
  • Identify and map existing utilities that may conflict with proposed routing and/or support a new landing
  • Determine shore end protection measures required (i.e., cable armoring, burial, articulated pipe, directional drilling, etc.)
  • Establish marine and terrestrial constraints that may determine whether the cable landing is to be direct from the main lay cableship or a separate shore end installation
  • Identify issues that may constrain operations at the proposed landing including the climate and weather and its potential impact on the construction, durability, and impact of the cable into any proposed landing area, site, and beach descriptions (of all alternate landings investigated)
  • Establish potential for beach erosion during severe storms, effects of ice, seismic events, marine traffic, and fishing activity
  • Understand beach utilization by the public (and implications of applying access restrictions during laying operations)
  • Highlight local communications mechanisms (radio permits required, cell phone/mobile signal strengths)
  • Determine site accessibility (roadway width, surface, etc.)
  • Conduct working space and conditions assessment
  • Document local facilities (civils contractor availability, shore end support, divers, hotels, etc.) and general facilities (airport, taxis, local ports, truck hire, etc.)
  • Assessment of availability of locally chartered survey vessels and diving contractors
  • Identify potential local shipping agents.

Your consultant will establish the landing requirements, terrestrial cable routing, location of the Shore Station, local infrastructure and support, etc. Your consultant’s Site Survey Team will comprise of personnel with significant surveying, hydrographic and shore-end submarine cable experience – your consultant will conduct a Site Survey to fully understand the requirements for landing the cable. However, the requirement for a survey may be revised after review of available drawings, photographs, plans and reports.

To accomplish the desired sites to be visited in an efficient and orderly fashion, your consultant will develop a Site Visit schedule, which may be modified, should events dictate.

The site visit team may include one or more Representatives. All pre-defined beach manhole locations and landing points will be visited.

The following tasks will be accomplished:

  • Determination of WGS 84 coordinates of landfall or manhole using time averaged positions obtained from a hand-held GPS receiver.
  • A north oriented, approximately scaled sketch (or sketches) of the immediate landing area showing the landfall or manhole (and giving their WGS 84 coordinates).
  • Captioned panoramic photo coverage, preferably viewed from the landfall or manhole, and ideally taken at low tide will be made with cardinal directions (N, S, E, W) indicated.
  • An approximate beach profile extending from the shoreline through the manhole will be accomplished.
  • Environmental or cultural features that might be disturbed by cable installation, such as live coral, mangrove stands, beach vegetation, archaeological sites, historical buildings, etc.
  • Environmental protection areas and the agencies that regulate them will be identified, and regulations concerning them will be determined.
Preparing the Daily Site Survey Report

Your consultant will provide a Daily Log of Site Visit activities, highlighting current activities, planned activities, and areas of concern, issues, and proposed solutions, namely the Daily Progress Report. This report will be provided as available on a daily basis during the Site Visits.

Preparing the final Site Survey Report

Your consultant will provide a detailed Site Survey Report for each site visited, detailing as necessary and available.

A written report will be completed, describing all the site visit activities and discussing any characteristics, physical or cultural, that would affect subsequent project activities including, but not limited to: landing, small boat, and diver swim surveys, cable installation, long term cable safety, property ownership, proximity to the local communications infrastructure, beach access, the surficial beach geology (emphasis on cable burial), the probable geological substrate (useful for estimating the local water table for the electrical grounding of repeated systems), the shallow water seabed morphology and geology, the exposure of the site to seasonal winds and seas, surf, turbidity, fishing activity (type, scale), future development.


Outlined above, some of the most basic building blocks of cable system development can seem very simple but are in reality quite complicated and require a great deal of commercial and technical experience. By employing a consultant, you are employing decades of experience without the overhead of multiple full time positions. A consultant will sit on your side of the negotiating table and find the best possible solutions for your system.


Kristian Nielsen is Quality & Fulfilment Director at WFN Strategies and a Project Management Professional (PMP™) and ISO 9001:2015 quality, 14001:2015 environmental management and 27001:2013 information security specialist and possesses more than 14 years’ experience and knowledge in submarine cable systems, including Arctic and offshore Oil & Gas submarine fiber systems. As Quality & Fulfilment Director, he supports the Projects and Technical Directors, and reviews subcontracts and monitors the prime contractor, supplier, and is astute with Change Order process and management. He is responsible for contract administration, as well as supports financial monitoring. He possesses Client Representative experience in submarine cable load-out, installation and landing stations, extensive project logistics and engineering support, extensive background in administrative and commercial support and is an expert in due diligence.


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