"Service providers are running out of cable capacity" says Pierre-Arnaud Cloutier, Director for Internet Transmission Facilities Planning for Teleglobe International Corporation. Lucent Technologies reported in a recent press release that 70 to 80 percent of undersea cable networks are currently "lit" or in use.
In fact, Cloutier says that all of the original capacity of TPC-5 is being utilized. To grapple with capacity constraints, telecommunications providers are developing new technologies such as Wave Division Multiplexing (WDM), which transmits different wavelengths or colors of light on the same fiber strand. WDM is expected to expand the carrying capacity of existing fibers up to five times.
According to Lucent Technologies, the new optical networking system they've designed with Bell Laboratories, based on WDM technology, is the foundation for the next phase of increased Capa.
The platform provides up to 400 gigabit per second capacity over a single strand of fiber: that's the equivalent of carrying the per-second traffic of the entire worldwide Internet over one fiber. In terms of speed, the system is capable of transmitting more than 90,000 volumes of an encyclopedia in just one second.
Unfortunately, the new technology can only be added to cables laid since the introduction of fiber optics in the late 80s. Cables built before that time is quickly becoming obsolete. In fact, one cable running through the South Pacific was recently sold to a team of researchers in Japan to study seismic activity in the region.
Consequently, laying new undersea cables is still a burgeoning business, and there are only a few companies in the world with the expertise and resources to do it: Alcatel, based in France; KDD, in Japan; and the U.S.-based Tyco. According to Mc Cants of Tyco, the three cable-layers often work together because of the huge demand. "The Internet has fueled this 'I want it now' attitude and suppliers have to partner to keep up."
"In the last twenty years, the entire industry has underestimated the level of capacity we'd be using," adds Cloutier. "Now, when we build cables we've got to plan that our need for capacity will probably far exceed our expectations."
Satellite networking, once thought to be the way of the future, is at least for the moment losing ground. "To reach inland countries in Africa and Asia without the technological infrastructure, satellites are definitely the way to go", Cloutier says. "But the expense of putting up even one satellite combined with its unreliability makes it impractical for most providers". Cloutier says less than 30% of Teleglobe's international connectivity is satellite-based.