SAN FRANCISCO-Laying down an ocean-crossing fiber optic data transmission cable is hardly for the faint of heart-or body. We're talking about months at sea in unpredictable open-ocean conditions to "pay out" a 1-inch-thick fiber optic cable capable of transporting billions of information bits per minute for thousands of nautical miles.
In this case, we're talking about SubCom's Global Sentinel cable-laying vessel, a 440-foot-long ship with a crew of 55 that specializes in just this kind of work. eWEEK was able to tour the Global Sentinel March 11 ahead of the launch party here at Port 80 for the Pacific Rim's newest cable connection, which starts in El Segundo (Los Angeles County), Calif., and terminates in Japan.
PacNet (formerly Asia Global Crossing), the largest submarine cable telecommunications company in the Asia Pacific and owner of this cable project, partnered with SubCom, the contracted international supplier of undersea communications systems and services, to do the job.
SubCom just this week changed its name from Tyco Telecommunications, although it is still a part of the Tyco Electronics company.
PacNet and SubCom will be turning on the power for data flow March 20 for the 15th trans-Pacific fiber optic cable connecting the United States with the Far East. Go here to view a slide show on the Global Sentinel and the PacNet project.
In total, cable was laid over 9,500 miles of ocean, at depths averaging from 3,000 to 6,000 meters, over a span of nine months. PacNet and SubCom laid about 5,000 miles of that cable; the Global Sentinel met up with a ship from another company at a predesignated location in the middle of the ocean, where the final splice was made.
Google is a major investor in this carefully planned project. As the world's largest search engine (and erstwhile Web services provider) grows, it realizes that it needs to have its own stake in owning at least part of the pipeline that carries its wares all over the world.
Google is especially interested in the Chinese market, where broadband is finally being made available in many provinces and where the number of users is, for all intents and purposes, unlimited.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were allocated to this fiber optic cable project; specific numbers were not made available. Google, which was trading at $565 on March 16 and which has more than $10 billion of cash on hand, picked up a hefty portion of the bill.
Not just any company with a seaworthy vessel can hope to undertake this sort of operation. In fact, the Global Sentinel was custom-built 19 years ago for this very purpose: to connect data networks across oceans and deliver the voice, data, graphics, video and database information needed to enable global business to perform at a high level.
SubCom has eight custom-built cable-laying ships, research and development laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and several power depots; it has produced more than 420,000 kilometers of undersea cable for over 100 undersea fiber optic systems currently in operation around the world.