The submarine telecoms cables spanning our oceans are the information superhighways that form the ‘backbone’ of the global ecosystem of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Their construction prizes durability and longevity. Their capacity is unparalleled. Their manufacture and deployment are major undertakings. Submarine telecoms cables are emblematic of the enormous investment required to connect the world.

I would like to thank the Submarine Telecoms Forum for offering ITU the opportunity to contribute to this report. The Submarine Telecoms Industry Report aims to offer a global view of the latest innovations in submarine telecoms technology, the latest deployment projects, evolving business relationships, and prospects for the future of the industry. This global view of the industry’s technical and business dynamics helps companies to build new partnerships and advance in unison.

This is an objective that ITU is pleased to support.

ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for ICT. We coordinate the global allocation of radiofrequency spectrum and satellite orbits. ITU standards are critical to the operation of today’s optical, radio and satellite networks. And we assist developing countries in the application of advanced ICTs.

Our global membership includes 193 Member States and some 900 leading companies, universities, and international and regional organizations.

ITU is unique in the ICT standards world as the only body to include governments. We are also unique in the United Nations system as the only body to include the private sector. We are in a unique position to bring the benefits of ICT innovation to all regions of the world.

The global ICT ecosystem is a remarkable feat of engineering, and a similarly remarkable feat of international collaboration. For over 150 years, ITU has provided a neutral platform to bring cohesion to ICT innovation worldwide.

The submarine telecoms industry has been integral to this work, participating in the development of ITU international standards for the design, construction, deployment and operation and maintenance of submarine telecoms systems.

Our latest standardization project in this domain is addressing transversely compatible DWDM (dense wavelength division multiplexing) applications for repeatered submarine telecoms systems. This project is also covering the characterization and commissioning of ‘open cable networks’, a shift towards the separation of dry and wet plant procurement.

I welcome you to join the ITU standardization community.

The principles underlying the ITU standardization process ensure that all voices are heard, that standardization projects do not favor particular commercial interests, and that resulting standards have the consensus-derived support of the diverse, globally representative ITU membership.

Enabling Infrastructure for Climate Action

ICT infrastructure has become enabling infrastructure for innovation in fields such as energy, transportation, healthcare, financial services and smart cities.

This infrastructure also has significant potential to support climate action.

In recent years, the extraordinary breadth and capacity of the submarine telecoms network has motivated the initiation of an ambitious new project: that of equipping submarine communications cables with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors to create a global real-time ocean observation network.

This network would be capable of providing earthquake and tsunami warnings as well as data on ocean climate change and circulation.

Submarine cables are uniquely positioned to glean key environmental data from the deep ocean, which at present is grossly under sampled for monitoring the climate. Equipping cable repeaters with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors – creating ‘Science Monitoring And Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) cables’ – would yield data of great value to climate science, disaster warning and the future of our oceans.

Realizing this vision is the primary objective of the ITU/WMO/UNESCO-IOC Joint Task Force on SMART Cable Systems, a multidisciplinary body established in 2012.

There was never any doubt that this project was feasible. What was required, however, was a coordinated international effort to mobilize the necessary political and business will to bring stakeholders together to determine their respective roles.

Chief on the Joint Task Force’s list of priorities has been devising means for the private sector to drive the sustainable growth of the envisaged SMART cable network. A variety of stakeholders have contributions to make, but telecoms companies are at the heart of the project. They will own and manage SMART cable infrastructure, becoming lead contributors to the advancement of climate science and disaster warning.

Telecoms companies and cable manufacturers are the right custodians of this responsibility.

These industry players are expert in manufacturing and deploying submarine telecoms cables designed to last 25 years. Their knowledge comes from many years of experience and it is essential that we capitalize on their expertise. Cable manufacturers are best placed to build and install SMART sensors as an integral part of the production process, ensuring the compatibility of SMART sensors with the engineering of the repeater and its deployment environment.

SMART cables are expected to be field-proven by ongoing demonstrations and proposed pilot systems in Europe, Asia-Pacific, and The Americas.

The work of the Joint Task Force and experience gained in the field will establish a minimum set of requirements for SMART sensors. This set of requirements will feed into ITU’s international standardization work.

The Joint Task Force has contributed a synopsis of its latest report to this issue of the Submarine Telecoms Industry Report. Your feedback on the report would be most welcome.

Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General

International Telecommunication Union

Houlin Zhao was first elected 19th Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union at the Busan Plenipotentiary Conference in October 2014. He took up his post on 1 January 2015. ITU Member States re-elected Houlin Zhao as ITU Secretary-General on 1 November 2018. He began his second four-year term on 1 January 2019.
Prior to his election, he served two terms of office as ITU Deputy Secretary-General (2007-2014), as well as two terms as elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (1999-2006).
Houlin Zhao is committed to further streamlining ITU’s efficiency, to strengthening its membership base through greater involvement of the academic community and of small and medium-sized enterprises, and to broadening multi-stakeholder participation in ITU’s work.