An Interview with Nigel Bayliff, CEO, Aqua Comms

Editor’s Note: The northern transatlantic was the first and is still the busiest and most demanding submarine cable route in the world.  In this environment, Aqua Comms is a stand-out performer, having successfully delivered five new submarine cables to the market, with more in the pipeline.

SubCableWorld recently had the pleasure to speak with Nigel Bayliff, CEO of Aqua Comms, regarding their recent announcement of the completion of CeltixConnect-2 (CC-2) and North Sea Connect (NSC) and how these systems fit in with Aqua Comms’ model.  His comments are below. 

Nigel Bayliff: When I came to Aqua Comms in 2016, we had two cables: AEC and CeltixConnect.  One of the first things we did was to change the names to AEC-1 and CeltixConnect-1 (CC-1).  Our reasoning was that this was always about producing a model which could grow with / to the size and scale of the network.  AEC-1 was from Long Island to Killala, Ireland, and CeltixConnect-1 connected Dublin to Anglesey in 2012.  CeltixConnect-1 was one of the first new cables in the Irish Sea, which at the time was being served by several very old cables dating back to the early 1990s.  It was a regeneration, part of the renewal of the global hyperscale growth of connectivity. 

We continued this regeneration with AEC-2, which came along in 2020, during COVID.  This connects New Jersey and Denmark, with a branch to Ireland.  Then we followed up with two other projects, which were combined, together with some colleagues and friends of the industry, into a consortium called Havhingsten.  We use the name CeltixConnect-2 (CC-2) for the Irish segment and North Sea Connect (NSC) for the UK-Denmark segment.  It is our absolute intent to build multiples of all of these.  That’s our connectivity model – our carrier-neutral, independent, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model.

During COVID, we managed all of the landings of the CC-2/NSC.  Normally, these would have been great events on the beach with lots of food and entertainment for the locals, who are always part of the cable-landing process, but none of that was able to take place due to COVID.  The teams landed the cables at remote beaches while everyone was in lockdown so these landings were “essential-services-only” operations. 

CC-2 stretches a second route across the Irish Sea from Loughshinny, 10 or 15 kilometers north of Dublin, to Blackpool, UK, with two branch landings into the Isle of Man; one on the east side and one on the west side. 

The Isle of Man has a rich ecosystem of data centers and three types of power production.  It’s an entity that has some of the benefits of being inside the EU and some of the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom.  It’s one of these hybrid locations with a good solid economy and a very strong online gaming market.  Secondly, it also is part of the way across the Irish Sea.  If you bring cables into either side of the Isle of Man, you effectively halve the distance of the digital line section because you can provide amplification in the middle enabling a much better, wider capacity route between Dublin and Blackpool. 

We then use connected terrestrial fiber that we purchased from various parties to link Blackpool to Newcastle with redundant routes.  Blackpool and Newcastle are part of the Northern Powerhouse Corridor.  Traditionally, a lot of the investment in the UK has been in the south of the country.  One of Boris Johnson’s big principles is called “levelling up” – to push investment into the north of the country, particularly around education and high-tech.  Blackpool-to-Newcastle is a transit corridor for all kinds of data.

From Newcastle, NSC extends across the North Sea to Denmark, landing about 20 kilometers south of the landing for AEC-2 and we connected the two points so we can access both systems. 

So when we put the plans together for this, the idea was that we could create a loop, which we called the North Atlantic Loop.  We’ll soon have a third link, although I’m not quite sure what you call a loop with three links, and potentially we’ll have a fourth link.  Essentially what that means is that the Aqua Comms’ network has a relatively new build of high-performance subsea optical cables that run from New Jersey or Long Island to Denmark, the UK and Ireland, in a very protected and resilient way without any single point of failure. 

Coming along relatively quickly will be AEC-3, which will run from Boston to Bude in Cornwall, and then carried by independent, resilient backhaul to Slough.  At that point we will have three completely separate, direct, resilient routes between the big hub locations of Dublin, Slough, Copenhagen and the Eastern Seaboard of the US.  And we’re looking ahead to AEC-4 and AEC-5. 

Our market is anyone who doesn’t build cables for themselves.  It could be carriers, ISPs, universities, NRENs and, particularly, OTTs.  These would be OTTs that haven’t quite grown to the size of having their own construction needs.  We work alongside the big OTTs such as Meta, Microsoft and Google, but then there are others that don’t yet have the scale to be ready to do their own construction.  What we don’t do is sell directly to enterprises, in the sense of going into the deep metro data center in the middle of Europe somewhere.  We partner with companies who do that very well.  We therefore remain neutral and thus are open to the widest possible market for carriage across an ocean, while we aim to provide completely resilient IaaS to the marketplace.