What is next for EllaLink? This was the main question from Capacity after following particular interesting activity by EllaLink. Capacity spoke to Vincent Gatineau, Senior VP of Subsea Infrastructure Development, and Diego Matas, COO of Ellalink, about the company’s plans for the next few months and their perspective of the subsea cable industry as a whole.
At the start of July, EllaLink announced that it had signed an agreement with the Government of Mauritania to create a branch unit connecting the cable there. Speaking to Gatineau about the news, he says that it will generate not only new digital opportunities for the country but is also a testament to the open and neutral nature of the system.
“Mauritania has only one cable today, which is the ACE cable. As you may know, for any kind of country or island, having just one cable is not enough,” he says. “I would say that being neutral and open gives them much less stress than getting in with a consortium or with some really heavyweight players that have other interests. For us, we just treat them as a customer like the others.”
As a privately funded cable, EllaLink is a system that aims to provide its products and services in a carrier-neutral, open-access and independent way.
“This is open, not only in the way we are managing our system but also in the direction we are heading,” added Gatineau. “We are going to be putting a cable station in Sines, which is in south Lisbon. It’s 130/150km. In the new location for submarine cables, we’re going to build a really strong and solid and protective landing with big [raw] pipes, big HDDs. In short, we want to build a fresh, new landing place that has the right power facilities and fibre connectivity.”
Adding to the company’s slew of announcements, in June of this year, the team also welcomed the addition of Former Sparkle CEO Alessandro Talotta and Alberto Horcajo, former CEO of Telxius, to its board.
“These two people are big leaders in the market,” says Gatineau. “It’s always good to have some independent advisors with a high level of expertise in the market.”
“It’s a really good mix of having some independent people, but also, getting people with such vast experience to join the project, shows that they are also interested in working in this project,” chimed in Matas. “So they bring wealth, like a deep knowledge of the industry, but at the same time, it’s a sign of support as well that they have decided to come with us.”
For the project, EllaLink chose Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), leveraging its vast experience of similar projects in the Latin America region. In May, the two completed the cable route study and started its marine survey.
According to Gatineau, this experience coupled with an ‘interesting price offer’ is what sent ASN to the top of the list.
“There was a request for quotation (RFQ), as usual. Technically, I would say they are one of the best currently with wet plans. They had huge experience in Brazil, especially in permitting,” he explained.
“I’m really happy to work with them,” adds Matas (pictured below). “But it’s true that a very competitive tender was carried out. They had good offers. But it’s also true that ASN has experience; this is clear. We are very happy with how things are looking.”
As is increasingly becoming the case, EllaLink as a project is a subsea system with a bit of terrestrial cable as well. For example, its cable landing station in Sines connects points of presence (PoPs) in Lisbon, Marseille and Madrid via a terrestrial ring. And there are a number of reasons to build in this way, as Gatineau explains.
“One of the main reasons is as well to be able to connect directly PoP to PoP, avoiding many transmission regenerations.”
However, this is a sign of a bigger industry-wide change, according to Matas. “There’s a fundamental shift, in the past, submarine projects ended on the beach,” he explains. “We are about connectivity. We are delivering PoP to PoP. Therefore, the cable doesn’t end on the beach for us anymore. Even the vendors are integrating submarine and terrestrial equipment. You tend to have like a seamless transmission infrastructure.”
Speaking on whether or not cable projects can still go ahead without the involvement of OTTs, either as owners or as tenants – Gatineau says that it is for this reason that EllaLink has decided to open as openly and neutrally as it has.
“I think non-neutrality is artificial. So naturally, it’s open. I think it’s important that this kind of cable exists to give an alternative to some people that don’t want to work with OTTs.”
The subsea space now continues to experience an increase in activity as growing investment into the market accelerates. Thanks in part to the growing education of how the internet actually works.
“I think in general, submarine is more active than ever,” says Gatineau. “Before people thought that the internet was happening somewhere else. Now everyone is realising that 98.99% happens there.”
“It’s the Snowden effect,” adds Matas. “If you look for information on the web from the providers or from the cable owners about how they are building their cable, no one is explaining how it is done. We are trying to do something different. We just launched a blog today and we will try little by little to explain exactly what we are doing.”
Aside from the nod to Edward Snowden the advent of technologies such as 5G, AI, the Internet of things (IoT) and of course the big amounts of data driven by them, is also playing its part in activity in the sector.
“In the end, it’s the demand that is driving this investment up, and then you’re going to have these technologies on top,” Gatineau says. “So there is a differing approach of how the technology is used to build the capacity to the systems.”
With a ready-for-service (RFS) date for the end of 2020 – the project is progressing nicely and is on track to meet its deadline. The only challenge is ensuring permitting goes smoothly.
“With any cable, what is risky is to get the cable landing station ready in the proper location and to get the permits from the agencies from different countries and to have it on time,” says Gatineau.
So far, the company has already secured most of what it needs permit-wise. ASN is taking the lead in Brazil. “Portugal’s is quite straightforward, even for the station builds,” says Gatineau.
“We have more or less just finished the marine survey and we’re going to start the manufacturing of the cable after the summer,” says Matas. “So everything is definitely on track, for the moment.