Since the deployment of the very first submarine cable system, the Atlantic has been a challenging and competitive market to operate in. The ingenuity and foresight of EllaLink’s founders has led us to take a different approach to the traditional one, both with our choice of route and landing points, and also our partners and way of doing business. Not only will our system bring the continents of Europe and Latin America closer together, but it will also open up a new corridor between China and Latin America. Our investment in the network, on the design side and also in how we build and operate the system, will be paramount to our success.
In the past, transatlantic submarine cable systems have typically taken a route across the North Atlantic from Europe to Canada, New Jersey, New York and more recently Virginia Beach. The primary focus of the EllaLink system is to offer a diverse transatlantic path for those wishing to reach Latin America directly from Europe, and vice versa. By selecting a subsea route across the South Atlantic we have created a unique alternative that can also be used to increase redundancy across large scale networks. EllaLink will also serve as a direct link between the scientific research and education communities between the two continents for our partners GEANT and RedCLARA.
The issue of diversity is well understood in submarine cable systems and increasingly customers are citing diversity as the primary criteria when selecting a cable route. Across the Atlantic for example, some of the main hyperscalers elect to have upwards of 5 diverse routes within their networks. By selecting alternative landing points, such as Sines in Portugal, the EllaLink team has increased the choices for diversity. With new landing sites come new cable stations, and green terrestrial routes, diverse from the congested paths back to Lisbon. All these decisions help to build redundancy into our customers end-to-end networks.
The main benefit EllaLink is bringing to the marketplace is provision of the first low latency coherent network between Europe and Latin America. Existing fiber optic routes between the continents currently go via North America, creating a much longer path hence imposing a large round-trip delay. Our primary aim is to serve those not wishing to route via North America, and by doing so EllaLink offers improvements in latency of around 50%. This will make a huge difference to telecoms users in both continents.
The number one issue in the market that EllaLink addresses is the lack of a high-speed and affordable connection between Europe and Latin America. The vastly decreased latency that EllaLink offers will have a big impact on the global IP market and on the enterprise IT delivery model. Software platforms are very sensitive to transmission delay and this limitation has forced providers to deploy their applications in data centers close to their end users. The dramatic improvements offered by the direct EllaLink route provide an entirely new way for the corporate world to define the architecture of their application layer for companies present either in Europe/Asia or Latin America. Which in turn creates a change in paradigm for data center infrastructure used for app deployment. New business opportunities will arise from the direct connection between Latin America and Europe allowing applications from each continent to serve each other.
On the dry side the system is also unique, with new landing beaches selected such as Sines in Portugal. By landing to the South of existing systems EllaLink avoids the congested areas of Sesimbra, Carcavelos and Seixal, and we are creating a new cable landing station in a site ideal for data center expansion. By installing multiple Horizontal Directionally Drilled bore pipes we hope to encourage other systems to land in Sines and help to create a new data center park with diverse terrestrial routes to Lisbon, Madrid and Marseille. 2 x 50MW solar plants are under development locally and it is our aim to see more green power used in subsea systems.
On both sides of the Atlantic EllaLink will light redundant terrestrial routes to key Points of Presence and as such we are investing heavily on secure routes with good fiber, to be lit with state-of-the-art coherent technology. We are particularly focusing on ensuring that the fibers and the routes selected will fit within the wet plant design without degradation of the optical performance allowing for a true PoP to PoP connection without regeneration on the beach
The concept of open and carrier neutral systems is not a new one, but the politics and practicalities of offering a service that is truly open often effects the products and pricing that we see in the telecoms marketplace. The approach of the EllaLink team from the beginning of the project in 2012 has been to offer an open access system, and our philosophy has always been one of partnership. Working closely with our research and education colleagues to address their specific low latency connectivity needs, ensuring that the service we will provide to our anchor tenants, EMACOM and Cabo Verde Telecom, enables them to connect and equip however they choose, and generally taking a partnership approach to all the business we do.
We plan only to sell capacity on the express route between Portugal and Brazil, and hence we are not competing with our anchor tenants for customers seeking connectivity to Madeira, Mauritania or Cabo Verde. EllaLink are providing services directly from PoP-to-PoP, and coming directly into our customers PoP’s and cages ensures our neutrality. Perhaps an open collaborative approach is not an innovative concept but an impressive one to see come to fruition, and we are proud of the close partnerships we have put in place. One of the main challenges faced by smaller islands and communities is the difficulty they face in securing telecoms connectivity. They typically have less demand and smaller budgets which makes procuring dedicated fiber optic systems a challenge for them. Throughout its conception, the EllaLink project scope encompassed ensuring that where possible we offered a solution to such islands that exist along our route. The team actively sought technical and commercial solutions which would enable such countries to participate in the system, looking at shortening branches where possible, and selecting optimum landings. Madeira, Cabo Verde, the Canaries and Mauritania will all benefit from this approach and by partnering early on in the project life we have been able to ensure that our customers interests have been protected.
Our end-to-end network has been designed to maximize our onward connectivity and the choice to provide secure and diverse routes to Marseille, for example, will enable onward routes to Asia and the rest of the world. The EllaLink route perfectly fits in with the recent increase in trading relations between Brazil, the most economically dynamic country of LATAM, and the EU, and also with China and the whole Asian continent. The latest data shows that, since 2005 the USA is no longer the main trading partner of Brazil but has been overtaken by China and the EU. In 2017, Brazilian exports’ main destination was China (22%), then the EU (20%), and finally the USA (11%). The Asiatic hegemony on the global trade and on LATAM will certainly continue to grow. Indeed, especially with new routes like the EllaLink one, Asian countries will be able to connect their cables to our data centers, for instance in Marseille, and thus, more easily reach Latin America.
By selecting a unique subsea route across the South Atlantic EllaLink have commenced a new journey in marine planning. Much of the deep-water parts of the system will be installed in areas that were not previously considered, and as such our marine team have paid particular attention to the route planning. Specific analysis of areas such as the Mid Atlantic Trench has been carried out with engineers studying its seismic activity and comparing that to the traditional North Atlantic routes. Using information such as that available in the Iris database we were able to ascertain that the specific route selected for EllaLink to cross the Mid Atlantic Ridge shows less risk of seismic activity than the popular routes across the North Atlantic. In that respect the marine survey activities to date have been fascinating, with additional runs and route development performed on ‘virgin’ seabed to understand the engineering challenges that lay ahead; see “EllaLeaks Series 1 Episode 1” for beautiful survey footage from the hydrographic research vessel the OGS Explora.
From a marine perspective much more effort goes into systems that traverse new seabed routes in advance of installation operations. During route development we put in place a highly experienced dedicated marine team to work with our supplier, Alcatel Submarine Networks, to select the best route to survey. And following the survey to review the data and agree the best route and methodology for burial. Additional survey runs and route development work was carried out in key areas such as the Mid Atlantic Trench, and the approaches into Madeira and Sines. The route into Fortaleza is congested and we have subsequently opted to build a new beach manhole to approve diversity. The survey and marine operations form about 30% of the project costs and hence are a significant investment.