The Third Wave – Reflections on the Ownership Possibilities Ahead
By Kieran Clark
July 20, 2020
Back in 2008, BP completed the first repeatered submarine fiber optic system for offshore oil & gas facilities. The Gulf of Mexico Fiber (GoM Fiber) system provided an immediate and unprecedented increase in telecoms capability – especially compared to more traditional satellite systems – that allowed for significant performance increases over night. (Otto, 2019) Since the implementation of GoM Fiber, numerous cable systems dedicated to oil & gas offshore facilities have been constructed which provide for several efficiency and safety improvements in the offshore industry.
Up until this point, submarine fiber systems had primarily been constructed for the use of private commercial cables (such as those for Tier 1 Internet Service Providers) or government backed infrastructure. The implementation of GoM Fiber opened the eyes of the wider world to the possibility that dedicated submarine cables might be worthwhile for their own use cases and beyond that of simple bulk data transport over the internet. This kicked off the “First Wave” of system owners beyond the traditional telecoms carriers and government funded infrastructure.
Almost a decade later in 2016, the first major Content Provider backed system was commissioned. The FASTER system was Google’s second entry into the submarine cable market, but it marked the first time they held a major ownership stake. Since FASTER, there have been 12 major submarine cables backed by Content Providers such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft which represents nearly one-third of all cable systems implemented since 2016 and represents the “Second Wave” of new system owners.
There are several reasons why providers like Google would choose to implement their own submarine cable infrastructure rather than simply purchase capacity from a traditional telecoms carrier. Security and scalability are major factors and owning your own submarine cable infrastructures provides “a layer of security beyond what’s available over the public internet”. (Google, 2019) This also allows for the ability to scale the network up or down based on your schedule and needs rather than having to work with and potentially wait on a third-party owner or operator.