Facebook and Google building new subsea cables between Asia and the US

29 Mar 2021

Cable-laying ship. Image: © Kalyakan/Stock.adobe.com

After Facebook pulled back on its planned cable to Hong Kong, it is now working with Google on links to Singapore and Indonesia.

Facebook and Google are working together on two new subsea internet cables that will connect North America and south-east Asia.

The cables connecting to Singapore and Indonesia will be built in collaboration with telecommunication companies in the region.

Once completed, the cables, dubbed Echo and Bifrost, are expected to improve internet connectivity between the countries and North America and boost subsea capacity by around 70pc.

The project will create the first direct links between Indonesia and North America, adding greater connectivity to the large nation where only 10pc of people are connected through broadband but nearly 70pc use mobile data, according to a 2020 survey from the Indonesian Internet Providers Association.

Kevin Salvadori, Facebook’s vice-president of network investments, told Reuters that the Echo cable, which is being built with Indonesia’s XL Axiata, is expected to be completed by 2023. Bifrost is expected to be completed in 2024 and is being built with Telin, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s Telkom, and Singaporean energy and construction giant Keppel.

Facebook did not disclose how much it is investing in the large-scale infrastructure projects. The cables will require regulatory approval to go ahead.

This latest announcement from Facebook and Google comes after a separate subsea cable project in Asia met serious delays.

The Pacific Light Cable Network, connecting the US and Hong Kong, had hit a wall with US officials over the cable’s links to Hong Kong and China. Facebook recently backtracked after the pressure and withdrew its application for the project from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“Due to ongoing concerns from the US government about direct communications links between the United States and Hong Kong, we have decided to withdraw our FCC application,” Facebook said earlier this month on its decision.

According to Salvadori, the Pacific Light Cable Network and its 12,800km worth of cables are still on the agenda and that Facebook and Google are working to “meet all of the concerns that people have”. However the form it eventually takes will be very different.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin