How subsea cables are making Ireland attractive for investment

11 Jun 2021

Image: © Mayumi.K.Photography/Stock.adobe.com

Digital Realty’s Mike Hollands discusses the subsea cable landscape and why it’s such an important sector for Ireland.

As the world becomes more connected than ever before, subsea cables have become a vital network for data travelling around the globe.

These long cables lie on the ocean floor and send data as pulses of light inside thin strands of wires, or optical fibres, within the cable.

There have been a lot of major infrastructure moves in the subsea cable industry in recent years in order to meet the growing demands for data.

Just this week, Google announced its plan to build a new subsea cable between the US and Argentina, which is expected to begin operations in 2023. This follows another two cables being built by Google and Facebook between Asia and the US.

According to Mike Hollands, senior director of market development at data centre giant Digital Realty, there are more than 400 existing subsea cables worldwide.

“As organisations bring on new technologies and solutions such as AI and IoT at scale, the explosive growth of digital business is requiring new subsea cable systems with greater capacity and increased resilience.”

‘Existing and planned subsea cables ensure that Dublin is able to take advantage of the data gravity megatrend’
– MIKE HOLLANDS

From an Irish perspective, there are currently four subsea cables connecting the island of Ireland to the US and eight systems linking the island to Britain.

“According to Host in Ireland, there are 70 operational data centres located in the country, and subsea cables have been a key component of making Ireland such an attractive location for investment in digital infrastructure,” Hollands added.

“In the next few years, we will see new subsea projects for the first time connecting Ireland directly to Norway, Denmark, Iceland and France.”

This acceleration of subsea projects will put Ireland in an incredibly strong position in terms of digital infrastructure.

A Digital Gravity Index from Digital Realty in 2020 suggested that Dublin will be among the top cities that will contribute to Europe’s growth in data in the coming years.

Globally, Ireland’s capital is also expected to outpace cities and data centre hubs like Mexico City, Sao Paulo and even Shanghai to be among the top 20 cities to experience annual data growth by 2024.

“Data gravity is the phenomenon of large amounts of data attracting more data and applications into the same place,” said Hollands. “Cities with strong, open data exchanges with other cities often generate the greatest data gravity, bringing major strategic advantages to businesses in those cities.

“Existing and planned subsea cables ensure that Dublin is able to take advantage of this megatrend, and cope efficiently with the high volume of data activity.”

In addition to the development of new cables, Hollands told Siliconrepublic.com that these cables will also become smarter, incorporating seismic and environmental detection features to support the scientific community in preserving our environment.

“A good example of this is [the] recently launched Ellalink cable between Brazil and Europe.” This cable, for which construction was completed at the beginning of June, will act as both a digital data highway and as a means to provide real-time, accurate and relevant data on seabed conditions.

Navigating challenges

While the future for subsea cables may be promising, there are also challenges and barriers to the growth of the industry.

From a geopolitical point of view, tensions between countries can cause serious problems when it comes to the transference of data.

For example, plans for a Facebook-Google cable between the US and Hong Kong were cut after four years in the making after concerns were raised about direct communications links between these regions.

Hollands also said the demand for so many projects has put pressure on the supply part of the industry. “There are limited number of cable-laying ships and subsea cable operators are having to carefully schedule their projects in order to meet their delivery timelines,” he said.

However, he added that new projects are also seeking to connect countries via new, diverse routes and landing points. “This helps improve the overall resilience of the networks that use them, ensuring that all the services delivered by the internet avoid downtime.”

Interxion is running a webinar on insights into Ireland’s subsea cable landscape on 15 June at 2:30pm. More information is available here.

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com