Google Goes Cabling with Telcos

Google and five telcos are funding a fiber-optic cable between the U.S. and Japan to support mass data growth.

When rumors surfaced last fall that Google and a handful of companies were planning to create a submarine fiber-optic cable to pipe data across the Pacific Ocean, some took it as proof that Google was getting into the telecommunications business to support its rumored phone.

Now the truth is out: Google and five telco companies Feb. 25 confirmed they are investing in Unity, a $300 million effort to build a high-bandwidth, fiber-optic cable from the United States to Japan.

Google is joined by India's Bharti Airtel, Malaysia's Global Transit, Japan's KDDI, China's Pacnet and Singapore's SingTel for Unity, which will run between Chikura, located off the coast near Tokyo, to Los Angeles and other West Coast network nodes.

More users are going online to access video, images and other fat data files for business and pleasure. This is particularly salient for Google because the company owns video-sharing site YouTube and specializes in building search, map and productivity applications for the Internet, which users access from PCs and smart phones.

"As more and more people conduct online searches and interact with applications like Gmail, Google Earth and YouTube, we've had to think outside the box to create a more scalable, affordable and easy to manage network that meets our users' needs worldwide," Francois Sterin, Google's manager of network acquisitions, wrote in a blog post Feb. 25.

Accordingly, Unity will boost broadband capacity to support the growth in data and Internet traffic between Asia and the United States. The companies said in a statement the 10,000-kilometer cable will initially increase Trans-Pacific lit cable capacity by about 20 percent, potentially adding up to 7.68T bps (terabits per second) of bandwidth across the Pacific.

Such cables are needed to keep up with Internet data demand. According to the 2007 TeleGeography Global Bandwidth Report, Trans-Pacific bandwidth demand has grown at a rate of 63.7 percent between 2002 and 2007, and total demand for capacity is expected to double roughly every two years.

By getting in bed with five other successful telcos, Google is defraying the tremendous costs of supporting trans-Pacific bandwidth, which TeleGeography researchers said costs eight times as much as trans-Atlantic connections. However, that doesn't mean what Google is doing isn't unique.

"While Google is the first non-telecom company to take an active role in ownership of a submarine cable, it's not likely that this is the beginning of a new trend," TeleGeography Research Director Alan Mauldin wrote on his company's site. "Although many nontelecom companies have high bandwidth requirements, few will venture into owning submarine cables anytime soon."

Google also made it clear it's not trying to compete with telcos.

"If you're wondering whether we're going into the undersea cable business, the answer is no," Sterin wrote. "We're not competing with telecom providers, but the volume of data we need to move around the world has grown to the point where in some cases we've exceeded the ability traditional players can offer."

NEC and Tyco Telecommunications will build and install the system, with initial capacity targeted to be available in the first quarter of 2010.