Interview: TE SubCom Aims Towards New Acheivements

SubCom is global supplier of undersea communications technology and marine services.

The company designs, manufactures, and installs fiber optic cable systems around the world.

To date, SubCom deployed more than 100 cable systems and enough subsea cable to circle the Earth more than 15 times at the equator.

Subsea World News has spoken to Debra Brask, vice president, project management, TE SubCom, about the company’s current and future projects.

We know TE SubCom as a subsea cable installation company, could you tell us more about what the company brings to the market?

TE SubCom is one of the top providers of submarine fiber optic cable systems in the world and has been for well over half a century. Whether it’s connecting transoceanic data centers, offshore oil & gas platforms or subsea research networks, SubCom designs, manufacturers, deploys and maintains the undersea fiber optic cable systems that enable global communications.

To date, SubCom has deployed more than 100 cable systems and enough subsea cable to circle the Earth more than 15 times at the equator (or to the moon and halfway back.)

Put another way, you’d need 68 end-to-end copies of the Great Wall of China to match the amount of cable we’ve deployed globally.

What approach is TE SubCom using when carrying out projects for clients?

SubCom builds and maintains undersea cable networks on behalf of organizations that include internet content providers (ICP), international telecommunications consortium, and global entrepreneurs.

While the telecommunications industry continues to rapidly evolve, the need for dependable high-capacity transmission keeps growing. So our customers are often those looking for the most direct route to connectivity, but within a system that’s scalable and flexible enough to grow along with them.

We place a special focus on identifying and mitigating risks during project implementation to complete systems on time.

In your opinion, where do you see the most potential for TE SubCom in the future?

Today’s increasingly connected world demands safer, greener and smarter solutions to the challenges we face. SubCom is an experienced and trusted supplier that brings together end-to-end network knowledge and global experience to construct our customer’s networks on time and at a lower total cost of ownership, enabling customers to focus on realizing their unique vision.

SubCom has made recent and substantial investments in its factory and its fleet to ensure it has the production capacity and resources to take on both short- and long-haul projects. Early in 2016, SubCom implemented a 50 percent increase in its wet plant capacity, and the addition of a seventh plow capable of up to 3-meter burial. In the months since, the company has further increased wet plant capacity by 20 percent with additional extrusion lines and the implementation of Digital Factory initiatives, enabling SubCom to confidently supply all near- and long-term projects.

You have a fleet of eight ships that conduct work worldwide, what makes them stand out from the competition?

The most impressive aspect of any one of our cable ships is her crew – they are the best in the world at what they do. Our crews are comprised of highly trained and experienced merchant mariners, submersible engineers, and cable operations staff.

In addition, our permitting expertise is a significant differentiator. Since 2013, SubCom has obtained regulatory permits in 54 countries.

Permitting intervals drive SubCom’s undersea system build schedules and global experience allows us to accurately plan project durations. Procuring permits along the same route across multiple projects reduces risk as the process and permitting authorities are well understood.

Our exceptional crew is paired with world class marine tools and a fleet of purpose built cable laying and maintenance vessels. TE SubCom owns and operates 8 cable ships, all equipped with a cable burial seaplow and ROV. Reliance Class ships are state-of-the-art installation and cable maintenance vessels.

These ships are 140 meters in length and are built to sustain cable operations during the harshest weather conditions.

Reliance Class ships are equipped with DP2 dynamic positioning systems that coordinate engines, bow thrusters, rudders and propellers to keep the vessel in position.

DP2 lets us work within a 500m safety zone without drifting too far out of position. In fact we’ve come within a 40m zone and held that position for a day and a half, which is a remarkable maritime feat.

Precision is what is required and so we are now able to deploy subsea equipment to within 2 meters of a target within 2,000 meters of water. That’s essentially like dropping a brick off the top of the Empire State Building and getting it to land within 1 foot of its target – only the building is moving and being buffeted by waves, wind and current.

Designed to lay a Trans-Atlantic cable in one load, the cable ships carry 80 people and are equipped for 60 days endurance – carrying enough food for more than 20,000 meals at sea.

For perspective, 60 days endurance would be 15 times longer than the longest non-stop endurance flight ever attempted and is the equivalent of 6 non-stop transits across the Atlantic.

The ships are equipped for an endurance of 25,000 nautical miles – which is just over one time around the circumference of the earth.

The 5 engines onboard the Reliance Class are the equivalent of 13,343 horsepower (5 x 1990kW), or the equivalent of 31 Ford Mustang GTs or 110 Toyota Prius’.

What is the most important part in the process of installing subsea cables, and what are the most common obstacles the installation contractors are facing while undertaking these projects?

The most important part of installing subsea cables is to understand your risks and mitigate them. Thorough and intelligent route engineering ensures that the cable type and burial areas are accurately identified, and enables ships to route around obstacles that could decrease the long-term viability of the cable.

Outside of the physical obstacles involved in installation, the permitting process is typically the core factor in whether a project is completed on time. SubCom has a dedicated permitting team that has received permits in 54 countries over the past three years and we know how to navigate the process.

Recently you partnered with Ciena to show advancement of open submarine cable networking solutions. What can you tell us about the cooperation and the benefits of open cables solution?

Open Cables was introduced by TE SubCom in January 2015 to provide customers a greater choice for line cards while continuing to benefit from SubCom’s latest undersea technology.

It represented a fundamental industry shift in undersea design at the time of its introduction, and today Open Cables has provided the ideal option for a cost-effective, comprehensive, yet tailored solution that allows for a multi-vendor supplier base for transponders. The choice of third party equipment allows customers converged network integration of their subsea and terrestrial networks, producing higher volumes and common operations that drive business efficiency.

As we’ve progressed with Open Cables, we already know that Ciena is the provider of choice for many of our key customers and we anticipate a majority of future customers will opt for Ciena, as well. For those future customers, SubCom wanted to enhance its offering to allow for a single contract/point of contact to light up and test the system end-to-end, hence our recent agreement with Ciena.

TE SubCom has recently worked on Monet subsea cable, could you tell us what other projects you have planned for the near future?

SubCom has had a very exciting year and the company is in the midst of a number of projects.

TE SubCom has been chosen by Facebook and Microsoft as the system supply partner for the new MAREA submarine cable across the Atlantic Ocean. What led to this award, and how do you plan to execute the project?

MAREA will be the highest-capacity subsea cable to ever cross the Atlantic – featuring eight fiber pairs and an initial estimated design capacity of 160Tbps. The 6,600 km submarine cable system will also be the first to connect the United States to southern Europe: from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Bilbao, Spain.

This new southern route will provide greater diversity of connections and enhanced reliability for customers, as well as optimal connectivity to data centers on the East Coast of the United States.

What is so far the greatest achievement of TE SubCom when it comes to subsea cable projects?

As a company, we constantly push ourselves towards new levels of technical acheivement. SubCom’s commitment to innovation is motivated by its history, which dates back to the 1900s and includes the deployment of TAT-1, the first submarine transatlantic telephone cable system.

In recent months, we’ve helped redefine industry standards through the introduction of Open Cables and its accompanying technology. We’ve also developed C+L technology that marks a revolutionary step forward in available fiber and undersea cable transmission capacity, effectively doubling the available bandwidth and capacity per fiber pair.

Only a few companies in the world can approach what we do, yet we continue to break records for capacity, speed, and distance because we’re never complacent about our unique position in the industry.

Subsea World News Staff, Photo: TE SubCom