If ever an internet subsea cable could be said to have a life-changing impact, then it is surely the appropriate way to describe the new cable from Quintillion, a cable which brings much needed connectivity to the remote wilds of northern Alaska and Canada.
Until now the inhabitants of this region have been making do with extremely slow and costly broadband connection, which is having a marked effect on all areas of life from the economy, to education, healthcare and more. But it is not only the inhabitants of this region who are getting excited about the potential of this new cable.
This project also marks a first for laying cable in the ice-bound waters of the North-West Passage, making it of special interest to any other operator looking to operate in such locations.
Further interest is spurred by the ambitions for this cable. Ultimately the plan is to extend it to connect Asia with Europe, offering not just route diversity but ultra low latency.
Connecting to two global financial hubs (Tokyo with London), shaving even just a few miliseconds off the latency will be of special interest to the high-speed traders who ought to feel duty bound to subscribe. This of course will help enormously to support the economic foundations of the project.
The cable is also turning a few heads given the financial backing from one of the world’s richest men, Leonard Blavatnik, whose commercial interests include plastics, oil and gas, fashion, telecom, tech and real estate, not to mention a modest foray into the music world with Warner Music Group. The system, which is being laid by Alcatel Lucent, will consist of three fiber pairs capable of carrying 100 wavelengths, each of which can support 100 gigabits-per-second of data capacity.
So far construction is almost completed on Phase 1, a 1200 mile route around the coastal waters off Alaska between Nome and Prudhoe Bay. Additional branches have also already been laid, connecting up with the communities of Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Utqiagvik (Barrow).
Also a new terrestrial fiber between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay has been installed and is now in service. From Fairbanks this fiber connects to existing networks reaching Anchorage, Alaska, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, thus providing fiber link between the Continental United States and the North American Arctic.
We asked Kristina Woolston, Vice President for External Relations at Quintillion, what kind of challenges were cropping up for such a unique project as this.
The prime challenge, she told us, was the limited window of opportunity in which cable could be laid, which, depending on weather, is round about 3 months per year. Other challenges include the need to bury much of the cable due to the churn action of icebergs that can scrape along the seabed during periods of melting and ice sheet-forming.
No doubt by the time Quintillion come to Phase 3 of the project, wherein they must lay cable in the freezing waters between Alaska, through the channels and ice flows of northern Canada, and thence to London, they will have gained a wealth of valuable knowledge and experience to oversee the project.
We look forward to hearing much more.