What will happen when SEA-ME-WE3 can’t continue to serve us faithfully?

Posted on December 20, 2017

Vocus Nextgen Submarine Cable

Australia's data connections to Asia are getting old.

The SEA-ME-WE3—which stands for South East Asia - Middle East - Western Europe—connects Perth to Singapore. It’s also our western seaboard’s only connection to the Asian region.

It was built in 2000, and 17 years is a lifetime in the technology world. In recent years, the SEA-ME-WE3 has experienced faults, outages and slowdowns, as a result of the redundant data limit and ageing specifications of the cable.

So what will take the load to deal with the explosion of demand for international data that is being experienced? Luckily, work is well advanced to give us the capacity needed for the explosion of network traffic.

About the SEA-ME-WE3

You may not know it, but SEA-ME-WE3 subsea Internet cable is the longest in the world, stretching 39,00km from Germany to Australia and Japan, with about 40 landing stations along the way.

The system is made up of two cable fibre pairs, which carry about 480 Gbit/sec of data through them. It is the only major cable out of Perth and Australia's primary link to Singapore and Asia.

France Telecom and China Telecom developed the cable in the 1990s, before launching it in 2000. In 2014, Vocus bought a 10 per cent stake in the project.

Recent problems and the future of the SEA-ME-WE3

A major repair project had to be launched in August after multiple cuts were detected on the subsea internet cable, issues that weren't repaired until mid-October. It began with an initial fault reported on August 30, but that was quickly escalated as repairers found several more faults while investigating. And in late 2017 the cable was damaged and is offline again. 

During the time the cable is offline, traffic is routed across the Pacific via the United States via congested submarine cables on the eastern seaboard, which significantly increases service latency to Asia Pacific and US-based data networks.

Aside from the cable issues, the SEA-ME-WE3 has been experiencing issues with reaching data capacity because of its ageing architecture. That resulted in the construction of the SEA-ME-WE4 and SEA-ME-WE5 subsea cables, which came online in 2005 and 2017 respectively. But these cables are designed to assist the SEA-ME-WE3, not replace it.

What are our alternative options?

Vocus and Alcatel Submarine Networks are working to create a replacement for the SEA-ME-WE3. The Australia Singapore Cable (ASC) is set to open in July 2018 —a month ahead of schedule.

This 4600km, four-pair fibre network will be able to transport data at 40Tbps/sec between Australia and Singapore, which is over 80 times the capacity of the SEA-ME-WE3.

It is not only faster, but includes a new landing point at Christmas Island to resolve the compromised service residents and businesses experience currently.

The overall design of ASC also incorporates extensive armoring and trenching to minimise the chance of physical damage, particularly through the geologically active and heavy shipping routes around Singapore and Indonesia.

Vocus Group chief executive Geoff Horth said the previous work done with Alcatel had aided in bringing the project forward.

"The Vocus and Alcatel build teams are familiar with each other, having worked together on the successful delivery of our North-West Cable System, which has facilitated the shorter timeframe for completion," he said.

To learn more about Vocus and its initiatives, contact our friendly team on 1800 030 057.

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