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Arctic submarine fiber-optic cable line Polar Express

"Polar Express"- a project that has been launched to build an underwater Transarctic fiber-optic communication line (FOCL) connecting Europe and Asia through the Arctic zone of Russia, with exit points along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and the possibility to include it in the existing FOCL with routes to Europe, Asia and America.

Summary

In 2020, the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation / Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport (Rosmorrechflot) / Federal State Unitary Enterprise (FSUE) “Rosmorport” started a project to build a Submarine Fiber Optic cable on the route Murmansk – Vladivostok with exit points along the Northern Sea Route (NSR).

The project will allow connecting the regions of the Arctic coast of Russia and the Far East via the new Submarine Fiber Optic network.

The new Submarine Fiber Optic network is unique due to its route and provides an opportunity to be included in existing trunk of fiber optic networks with routes to Europe, Asia and America, allowing to be utilized by operators and users of international backbone communication networks, as it represents:

  • Geographically - the shortest route between Europe, Asia and America, which has no analogues at the moment and provides a minimum level of signal delay compared to traditional southern routes.
  • A high-tech backbone communication line with the possibility of further increasing capacity by virtue of both the land-based (onshore) equipment and the use of the latest solutions in the field of fiber optic communications.
  • A logical and significant continuation of the development of the global backbone network infrastructure under the conditions of high demand for additional capacity due to the exponential growth of international IP traffic on routes –Europe-Russia / Europe-Asia / America-Asia.

FSUE "Morsviazsputnik" has been appointed as the Operator of the Arctic FOCL for customers and to ensure interaction with potential international partners.

Background of the project

The Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport (Rosmorrechflot) and FSUE “Rosmorport” have been assigned strategic tasks related to the development of infrastructure and port facilities in the Arctic region.

• In order to solve these tasks, as well as to build the digital ecosystem of the NSR, the implementation of a Submarine Fiber Optic communication line along the NSR route is currently under construction.

• Interested agencies and enterprises have been involved to support the implementation of this project.

 

Project participants 

 

STATE CUSTOMER
  • The Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation
  • Federal Agency for Sea and River transport (Rosmorrechflot)

 

CONTRACTOR-DEVELOPER

  • FSUE «Rosmorport»

 

OPERATOR

  • FSUE «Morsviazsputnik»

 

CONTRACTING ORGANIZATIONS

  • Main Contracting organization  - JSC “PERSPECTIVE TECHNOLOGIES AGENCY” 
  • Contracting organization for the production of cable - Cable Production Division of the PTA Group
  • Cable-laying Contractor -  PTA Group Shipping company

 

Project objectives

INFRUSTRUCTUAL

  • Development of port infrastructure along the Northern sea route (NSR).
  • Creating a digital infrastructure for the production and transportation of hydrocarbons (oil, gas etc.) in the Arctic region, resolving the problems of geological exploration.
  • Saving and maintenance of the environment, introduction of preservation technologies for the Northern regions.
  • Providing an alternative to satellite communications for Northern latitudes, developing the synergy of FOCL network and satellite networks (Iridium, Inmarsat 10GX, Express RV, etc.).
  • Development of digital data center infrastructure for Big Data in the Russian Federation.
  • Introduction and expansion of production capacities for high-tech equipment during the project implementation.

 

ECONOMIC

  • To provide the geographically shortest route to ensure the transit of telecommunications traffic between Europe, Asia and America, which has no analogues in the modern infrastructure of FOCL, and thus minimize the level of delay in the transmission of information.
  • To meet the growing international demand for the backbone fiber optic networks in the context of digitalization of the world economy, the development of "big data" technologies, e-Commerce and the "Internet of things", and as a result, the exponential growth of international IP traffic on routes: Europe-Russia / Europe – Asia / America – Asia.
  • To expand the international infrastructure of the existing fiber-optic cable network by establishing the new FOCL with creating data centers in areas that allow, among other things, to minimize effects on the Earth's ecosystem.
  • To provide direct "connectivity" for customers that have certain requirements for the level of delay and security of data transmission (e-Commerce, technologies of unmanned transport systems, 5G / 6G, quantum communications, etc.).

 

Project description 

 

PROJECT GEOGRAPHY

 

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PROJECT

TECHNICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF ARCTIC FOCL

  •  The Main Contractor provides for and controls all stages of the project implementation from research and design, equipment and materials delivery, installation, commissioning and subsequent warranty and post-warranty service.
  • The marine section of the ARCTIC FOCL is implemented using a specialized submarine cable.
  • The cable has six pairs of optical fibers (OF) and a conductive element for powering underwater optical amplifiers.
  •  Pairs of optical fibers will be distributed as follows:
  1. two pairs of OF for direct communication on the main section of the FOCL "Murmansk-Vladivostok" with a length of 12650 km;
  2. two pairs of OF for the organization of four independent branches to intermediate objects at the landing points: Amderma, Dixon, Tiksi, Pevek, Anadyr, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk;
  3. two pairs of OF for the organization of a backbone reserve for the future development of the entire communication network.
  • Signal amplification is achieved using more than 150 highly reliable underwater optical amplifiers (repeaters) with the ability to organize up to six transmission systems using the DWDM spectral compaction technology and remote power supply from the Murmansk, Pevek and Vladivostok facilities.
  • Parameters of submarine fiber optic cables:

Parameter

The type of cable in accordance with the international classification of recommendation ITU-T G. 978

LW without armor

SА single armored

DА double armored

Strip depth, м

1000

0-1500

0-200

Outer diameter, мм

15-25

25-35

35-45

Number of optical fibers

Up to 16

 

 

Weight in the air, t/km

0,5-0,8

2,0-2,9

4,0-6,0

Nominal permanent tensile strength (NPTS), кН

20-25

100-150

200-300

Nominal tensile strength at break at work (NOTS), кН

30-40

150-200

300-400

Nominal transient tensile strength at break [NTTS], кН

50-60

200-250

400-600

Minimum cable breaking load (CBL), кН

70-80

250-370

550-800

 

Conformity to standards

The cable meets the international classification recommendation ITU-T G. 978.

• The design and creation of the submarine fiber optic system is carried out in accordance with the modern regulatory framework for the preparation, development and approval of design and working documentation, recommendations of the International Telecommunication Union ITU G652.D. and the International Committee for the Protection and Operation of submarine cable lines (ICPC, International Cable Protection Committee).

 

Project implementation 

  • To implement the project, the Contractor engages a fleet of specialized technical vessels that perform marine surveys, necessary hydrographic and hydrological studies, and underwater technical work, including clearing the route and laying a fiber-optic communication line with sinking into the ground. Bringing lines to the shore, as well as overcoming other natural or infrastructural barriers are performed using the technology of horizontal directional drilling.

    • The technical fleet consists of:

    • 2 special purpose vessels (cable-lying vessels);
    • 2 support vessels;
    • 2 research vessels;
    • 1 multi-purpose vessel, tug and boats for diving operations

 

Network infrustructure

  • The submarine cable network infrastructure comprises a number of Cable Landing Stations (CLS), in which the equipment of the fiber optic cable structure is stored and operated.
  • Each of the Cable Landing Stations contains a range of modules designated for placing and operation of different CLS’s subsystems, and is developed based on typical maritime containers for operation in cold climate regions.
  • The modules differ basing on the functionality of the equipment installed, including equipment ensuring required operational conditions for the terrestrial and submarine cable systems, management and monitoring equipment. Each CLS includes:

 

  • 1 termination and management module – this module is allocated for installation of data transmission and terminating systems, terrestrial and submarine cable monitoring, management and control systems.  
  • 1 main power feed module – this module is allocated for installation of high voltage power feed of the submarine cable system. This module provides the receipt, automatic stabilization and the required voltage conversion of the external power feed and includes rechargeable batteries enabling a guaranteed power supply of the CLS of no less than 6 hours. 
  • 2 backup power feed modules – this module is allocated for installation of the diesel generator units providing backup power feeding for all CLS’s equipment in the case of external blackout. Each of these modules is equipped with two emergency fuel tanks of 1000 liters each, which can enable the autonomous operation of the CLS of no less than 10 days.
  • 1 spare and repair parts module – this module is allocated for spare and repairing parts storage.

Cable Landing Station, Teriberka, Murmansk region, 2020

  • In order to facilitate the operation and functioning of the entire CLS’ equipment all modules are equipped with climate control facilities, power and fire safety systems, fire safety equipment, lighting, fire and theft alarms.
  • To enable the safety of equipment the CLS is surrounded by a protective fence, CCTV and external lighting.

 

Technological features 

  • The project provides for the possibility of further increasing the throughput capacity solely by upgrading the onshore equipment of facilities on the main sections of the OF to 100x100 Gbit / s).
  • Taking into account the project implementation time frame (2020-2026), it is necessary to take into account the potential for improving the implemented basic FOCL, based on:
  • Trends and risks of the modern market of mainline underwater fiber optic systems;
  • Exponential development of technologies (quantum communications, e-Commerce, 5g/6G e-trading, etc.);
  • Growing need for secure communications and growing requirements for information security, data storage and processing.

Project Potential

The current development of the Arctic region is drastically changing the requirements for a global communications network, which means that regional development plans and corresponding investments in infrastructure must be implemented in the interests of the government, as well as Russian and global business.

The development of backbone communication networks is a new trade route in the digital economy. Digitalization and changes in the global economic climate are becoming the foundation for change and the engine for digital development in Asia and the Russian Federation, along with Europe and North America.

 

900 projects, planned or already launched in the Arctic region, with a total investment of approximately us $ 1 trillion, require the rapid development of the Arctic region's communications infrastructure (1) - Cinia’s Presentation “Project Arctic Connect”, September 20, 2019

 

Main trends in the development of the global backbone network infrustructure

 

"New rise in the fiber-optic cable line market segment"

After the “dot-com market boom” of the 1990s, which triggered the first big investments into the segment of the submarine fiber-optic cable market, today there is a “boom of Tech Giants” (such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook etc.) which are started actively investing into Submarine Fiber-Optic cable lines infrastructure (2) - Bloomberg Businessweek, March 2019, Thomas Seal – “The Undersea Cable Market…”

At the same time, another considerable indicator of the market growth are the mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies in this sector of the economy (for example, Global Marine Group, Global Cloud Exchange, Aqua Comms).

 "The need for capacity"

The development of Tech Giants – i.e. content providers, Internet companies, online trading platforms, and, as a result, the growing need for "big data" and the Internet of Things (IoT) represent a significant annual growth in international IP traffic, as well as dictate the need to connect new data centers and redistribute traffic via new routes.

A powerful transformation from a traditional communications environment to a cloud-based communications environment requires real-time transmission of big data with minimal latency and high redundancy.

"Geography"

The emergence of new regional participants (Asia, Europe, etc.), the global infrastructure, a distributed network of backbone telecommunications aggregators (hubs) dictate new requirements for the infrastructure of backbone networks, including underwater and ground segments.

"New and promising technologies"

The introduction of 5G, the development and application of quantum communications for the set-up of secure networks (secure Internet), e-Commerce and e-Trading impose new demands on the performance and capacity of trunk channels.

"Limitations"

Additional restrictions due to national cyber security issues (for example, in October 2019, the US Department of Justice opposed the project of Google, Facebook Inc. and a Chinese company to lay a US-Hong Kong cable) (3)  – BBC News 1st of Sept 2020 “Google-Facebook ditch plans to dock giant data cable in Hong Kong

 

The need for diversification due to network failures 

Existing cable networks are becoming outdated, which has led to a large number of breakages in recent years. With cable networks currently unable to cope with the actual flow of data, many consumers show a strong need for diversity.

 

Drivers of the Project

  • The Geographically shortest route for the transit of telecommunications traffic on the route EUROPE-RUSSIA – ASIA / AMERICA, that has no analogues in the world.
  • The growing volume of traffic through the world's mobile networks and thus the growing market demand for additional capacity. The increase in the volume of traffic is 75% - 100% per year.

At the same time, the so – called share of the maximum potential capacity is less than 30% on most FOCL.

  • Corporate network, e-Commerce, and Internet of things traffic will take up 50% of trunk traffic in the coming years.
  • Tech Giants (content providers and online trading platforms) are the largest generators of private network traffic.

In Europe and North America, the largest private network traffic generators are Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Apple, Akamai, IBM, Oracle, and Salesforce. Many of these providers are also present in Asia, where they compete with Asian providers such as Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud, Sinnet, and Baidu Cloud.

In 2018, Google indicated that its capacity requirement has increased 100-times over the past five years, implying a CAGR of 151 percent. Microsoft in 2017 stated that "over the past three years, we have increased the bandwidth of our global WAN network by 700 percent", i.e., the CAGR was 91 percent (4) – Terabit Consulting Inc., “Arctic Submarine Fiber Optic Cable Line (FOCL) Market & Traffic Study”, June 2020

• Asia and Africa are the most rapidly growing regions, demonstrating the exponential development of networks and infrastructure.

 

Peculiarities of project implimentation of submarine fiber optic cables in Europe and Asia 

Most of the traffic from Europe to Asia is routed via the Red Sea and Egypt. An alternative is the Pacific route through North America, which, due to its length, causes additional data transmission delays.

At the same time, the entire underwater cable route from Europe to Asia is subject to high risks, and many consumers are looking for a more reliable alternative. Underwater fiber optic lines from Europe to Asia pass through the five "critical areas" of high risk: The Strait of Luzon, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, Egypt and the Red sea, and the Strait of Sicily.

Many consumers feel the need for an alternative cable network not only because of overload, but also after repeated major interruptions in the operation of this underwater fiber optic network.

For example, in March 2013 the Egyptian government stated that three people were detained in the sea near Alexandria, who were trying to disable the cable of the Sea-Me-We-4 line. The simultaneous failure of three optical cables has reduced data transfer speeds by 60% and affected approximately 1 billion people in Europe, Africa and Asia.

In January 2016 European-Indian cables-FLAG Europe-Asia, FLAG Falcon-also had outages off the coast of Egypt, while many Internet users in the UAE were cut off from the network. The Sea-Me-We-3 cable suffered three separate failures in 2017.

Land-based data transmission Cable line in Egypt is a particular risk. One of the most urgent requirements is a reliable, cost-effective communication highway between Europe and Asia with a slight delay in data transmission, which bypasses the Egyptian "bottleneck". More than 95% of active fiber-optic cable lines from Europe to Asia (including the key cables: FLAG Europe-Asia, Sea-Me-We-3, Sea-Me-We-4, AAE-1 and Sea-Me-We-5 systems) pass through the Suez Channel in Egypt and its capital Alexandria. Over the past 20 years, global operators have expressed concern about the vulnerability of such network traffic, with many sources, especially the so called “Suez corridor” and adjacent coastal zones, describing Egypt as the "Achilles ' heel" of global networks.

At the same time, the analysis of economic indicators for the lease of Fiber-Optic Cable lines channels for 2019, including international channels and IP transit shows that the lease of channels running through Europe-Asia gives a positive annual growth of + 11% (5) – TMT Consulting Report, April 2020