Next generation fiber optic cable crosses the Pacific Ocean

October 6, 2008

by Mark Ollig

Linking mainland China, South Korea and Taiwan with the United States is a new 11,000 mile fiber optic cable.

The Trans-Pacific Express (TPE) fiber optic cable will have the capacity to handle an amazing 77.5 million simultaneous phone calls.

This is more than 60 times the overall capacity of the existing cable directly linking the United States and mainland China.

The TPE fiber optic submarine cable will have a data transfer speed of 6Tbps (terabits per second).

In April, the first optical “light” over the TPE cable was transmitted between Chongming in China and Nedonna Beach, Oregon.

After watching a video presented by Verizon about this new fiber optic cable I thought it would make an interesting column.

Let’s first go back to 1956, and take a look at the Trans-Atlantic-1 (TAT-1) transatlantic submarine copper paired cable for a comparison.

The TAT-1 initially supported a total of 36 simultaneous voice calls.

TAT-1’s cable and booster or “repeater” stations were placed on the sea bed two miles under the ocean.

Those electronic power repeaters were placed into the TAT-1 cable at 37 nautical mile intervals.

The main submarine sea link was developed by Bell Laboratories and consisted of two armored cables, one for each direction.

The 2,240-mile undersea cable system ran from Galland Bay in Scotland to Clarenville in Canada.

On September 25, 1956 at 11 a.m. EST, the first all took place over the TAT-1.

On the first day of public service, there were 588 calls from London to the United States.

The TAT-1 also was used for the famous “hotline” communications system directly linking Moscow and Washington.

The hotline was established in June of 1963 and was used in 1967 during the Egypt-Israel Six-Day War when both superpowers informed each other of its military moves in order to avoid any escalated provocations.

The hotlines, infamous “red phone” wasn’t actually installed until 1971.

Before 1971, the communications over the TAT-1 were made via telegraph or teletype.

TAT-1’s capability to provide service came to an end in 1978, but it proved an important starting point for future research and development.

An actual piece of the TAT-1 cable is on display in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Moving ahead to today’s TPE fiber optic cable . . . it is historical, as it is the first “next generation fiber optic cable” to directly link the US.and the Chinese mainland.

Telecommunications companies: Verizon, Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom, China Netcom, China Telecom and China Unicom formed the Trans-Pacific Express (TPE) Submarine Cable Consortium in 2006.

AT&T later joined this consortium.

This is the group which operates and oversees the fiber optic cable.

The cost to construct and install the TPE was reported to cost $500 million dollars.

Currently, undersea communications traffic from mainland China to the United States is provided by a single low-capacity network which goes through Hong Kong and Japan.

In December 2006 off of Taiwan’s coast, a major earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale damaged eight crucial undersea communications cables in 22 places.

This interrupted much of the communications throughout Asia and the surrounding region.

The Taiwan earthquake was the driving force for the creation of the TPE. Plans were quickly put into place for this new undersea fiber optic cable installation.

The new TPE submarine cable route will take advantage of a network architectural design called “optical meshing.” This technology speeds alternate paths for rerouting traffic in the event of a cable cut or network disruption.

When a service interruption occurs and optical meshing is required to restore service, special equipment located in communications networking buildings on land will reroute the voice and data traffic within 50 to 100 milliseconds over alternate undersea cables.

It was in February of this year, we learned of the major undersea fiber optic cable disruptions in Europe, the Middle East, and around Asia.

This part of the world was scrambling to find alternate routes — on land or sea — to re-connect businesses and nations back onto the Internet and other service networks.

In the February 11 “Bits & Bytes” column I wrote about “vulnerable cables lay beneath the sea” which centered on this major communication service disruption.

The short video from Verizon about this new fiber optic cable is at located at http://tinyurl.com/433ean.

To see a map of the TPE fiber optic cable and how it routes from Nedonna Beach in Oregon to the Chinese mainland area, see http://tinyurl.com/4tkee8.

For you history buffs out there, the first undersea cable used for communications was a 25 mile undersea cable placed between Dover, England and Calais, France. This cable began providing telegraph service on October 17, 1851.

This week’s “Web Site of the Week” will feature historical undersea communication systems from the 1800s to today.