Bangladesh entering into a Consortium Submarine Cable

Md. Monwar Hossain
GM/PD, Submarine Cable Project. BTTB (2003)

1. History of Submarine Cable :

Anybody dealing with Telecommunication will be curious to know as to when the first Submarine cable was laid. It is for their information that TAT-1 was the first trans-Atlantic telephone cable, which was laid in 1956. It was a coaxial cable catering for four thousand voice circuits but coaxial cable with it repeaters was running with technological limitations. So fiber optics Submarine cable brought forth the new solution overcoming the technological difficulties. In 1983 TAT-8 was the first optical fiber cable, which contained two pairs of single mode fibers carrying 35 thousand telephone circuits across the Atlantic.

2. Shark biting the fiber optic cable

[AT&T’s] Submarine Systems division carefully planned another test of TAT-8 technology in the Canary Islands of Africa, where the Spanish telephone authority wanted a link between Grand Canary and Tenerife Islands.

Sharks had ignored coaxial cables. Why should they turn their razor-sharp teeth on fiber. [It turned out] the electric field from the current attracted the predators, who apparently use it in hunting. Coaxial cable also carried a current, but its outer metal wrap blocked the electric field from reaching into the water. Nothing blocked the field from reaching the water around the fiber cable, where the sharks could sense it. Hence Engineers had to provide protection on FOC Submarine cable against shark biting.

3. Bangladesh efforts to be connected to Submarine Cable

Bangladesh T&T Board first prepared a project concept paper on 12th Jan 1998 regarding a Submarine Cable project. Bangladesh was making efforts to join (a) SEA-ME-WE-3, (b) SAFE and (c) Oxygen, three Submarine Cables materializing almost in similar time span.

On 4th Oct 2000, ECNEC approved a project namely “Establishment of International connectivity through Submarine Cable System” and the total project cost was 921.18 cr. BTTB invited International tender on 16th Aug 2001 for this project. After evaluation the case was sent to the Ministry for further process in the Inter-Ministerial committee.

It was at that stage while 3 (three) inter-Ministerial meetings were held to discuss the bids, Bangladesh received the first invitation to join a Consortium Cable.

4. The Consortium Cable, SEA-ME-WE-4

This cable covers South-East Asia, Middle East, Western Europe-4, starting from Singapore to France. The total length of the consortium cable will be about 21000km and 14 parties have shown interest and singed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to develop a consortium FOC cable.

The following are the 14 Potential Initial Parties (PIP’s) who signed the MOU on 4th Sept 2002 in Bali of Indonesia;

Indosat (Indonesia)
Telecom Malaysia (Malaysia)
SingTel (Singapore)
Bharati (India)
VSNL (India)
BTTB (Bangladesh)
STL (Srilanka Telecom Ltd)
Etisalat (UAE)
STC (Saudi Telecom Corporation)
World com (England)
TE (Telecom Egypt)
TI (Telecom Italia)
PTCL (Pakistan Telecom Co. Ltd)
FT (French Telecom).

There have been already 7 meetings of the consortium in various member countries. Tender Documents for the FOC cable are almost ready and it is expected to sign the Suppliers contract by Nov 2003.

For Bangladesh the landing station will be at Cox’s Bazar and therefore BTTB has to develop a FOC link between Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong.

Two more new landing parties have been considered for inclusion in the Consortium, they are;

CAT - Thailand.
Tunisie Telecom - Tunisia.
Few non-landing parties are also under consideration of the Management Committee for inclusion in the consortium.

The minimum Investment level in this Consortium Cable has been 30 million USD. Normally for the Branching parties, each party has to spend for its own branch cost (50 million USD for Bangladesh branch, 1240 Km) and 15 m USD should be the contribution towards the express way. It is worth mentioning here that the total route will have 2 fiber pairs (One pair for branches and one pair will touch the full landing stations only). The total project in expected to be completed by 1st quarter of 2005.

5. System Configuration :

Total four segment , namely segment 1, 2,3 & 4 will be constructed in SMW4 consortium cable that will run from Tuas ( Singapore ) to Marseilles ( France ). The details of the segments are :

Segment 1 :
Segment 1a shall contain two fibre pairs where one fibre pair is directly connected between Tuas (Singapore) and Chennai (India) and the other fibre pair is connected between Tuas and Chennai with branches to Melaka (Malaysia), Medan (Indonesia), Satun ( Thailand ) and Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) .

Segment 1b shall contain two fibre pairs where one fibre pair is directly connected between Channai and Mumbai and other fibre pair is connected between Channai and Mumbai with a branch to Colombo.

Segment 2 :
Segment 2a shall contain two fibre pairs one fibre pair is directly connected to Mumbai and Jeddah and other pair is connected to Mumbai and Jeddah with branches to Karachi (Pakistan) and Fajairah (UAE).

Segment 2b shall contain two fiber pairs where both pair are directly connected between Jeddah and Suez(Egypt).

Segment 3 :
Two fibre pairs will run through Suez, Cairo and Alexandria. This a land Cable
( Terrestrial Segment ).

Segment 4 :
Segment 4 shall contain two fibre pairs where one fibre pair is directly connected between Alexandria and Marseilles (France) and the other fibre pair is connected between Alexandria and Marseilles with branches to Palermo (Italy) and Bizerte ( Tunisia ).

A route diagram of the cable is annexed with this article as annex – 1.

6. Capacity :

1) Using WDM ( Wave Division Multiplexing ) technology with a design capacity of at least 64x10 Gbit/s transmission per fibre pair ( FP ).For two FPs it will be 1.28 Tbit/sec.
In WDM system 64 wave length (λ) can be transmitted through one FP and 10 Gbit/sec for each wave length ( λ ).

2) Initially it will start with 8x10 Gbit/sec on each fibre pair (FP) and capable of being equipped in multiples of 8 x 10 Gbit/sec per FP.

7. Advantage for Bangladesh to join a Consortium Submarine Cable rather than having its own Submarine Cable

(a) Bangladesh will get an initial capacity of 10Gbps, which will cater for next few years. Any additional capacity can be procured through some incremental payment to the Consortium and the capacity can be enhanced up to 100 Gbit/s.

(b) The operation and maintenance of the Submarine Consortium cable will be the full responsibility of the Consortium and it would be cheaper for Bangladesh. On the contrary, if Bangladesh possesses its own Submarine cable, she has to sign another operation and maintenance agreement with a third party and this agreement will be definitely costly. Bangladesh neither has the skill manpower or equipment/ship for operation and maintenance of the Submarine cable nor does it have any experience since this Consortium cable will be the first Submarine cable in the country.

(c) Bangladesh will get free landing entry into the 12 member countries and bilateral traffic can be sent through half circuit basis.

(d) The project cost in the Consortium will be much cheaper than Bangladesh having its own Submarine Cable.

(e) This Consortium cable will provide us with sufficient bandwidth for ICT expansion and software export/data transmission at a much cheaper rate. Bangladesh having a Submarine cable connectivity internationally will open up a new era of communication which will not only encourage telecommunication at a cheaper rate (no delay in communication, less noisy, faster and smoother seamless communication can be achieved) but also will have enormous opportunities in respect of software export, data entry, call centers etc in order to earn foreign currency.