Editor’s Note: Aqua Comms’ first transatlantic cable went live in January 2016.  Since then, the company has become a major player in the submarine cable market with ownership interests in several existing and planned international cable project, including a new transatlantic cable, HAVFRUE, announced in January.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Nigel Bayliff, CEO of Aqua Comms, about his company, the numerous cable projects that Aqua Comms is involved in and the direction that the submarine cable market is heading. 

Aqua Comms began a few years ago with a private investor in a transatlantic cable initiative previously called Emerald Networks, while also acquiring Sea Fibre Networks, an Irish cable company.  Sea Fibre Networks built an undersea cable in 2012, called CeltixConnect, that links Dublin to Holyhead in Wales.  It is the shortest, most secure crossing of the Irish Sea.  This was during a period of high growth of the Irish economy and the private investor, Aqua Ventures International, combined CeltixConnect with a new transatlantic cable that was the result of the Emerald work called the AEConnect-1.  Running from Shirley, Long Island, to Killala, in the far western reaches of Ireland, AEConnect-1 was designed to have the shortest passage through shallow water in the U.S. and then pops up in western Ireland with just a very short run of continental shelf before it goes into Killala.  It has dual diverse backhauls to Dublin to reach the Irish Sea and dual diverse backhauls to London. 

Our idea was to create something reliable and resilient for the new era of cable building in the Atlantic.  We all know the story of what happened to the transatlantic cable market in this century.  At the turn of the century, there was this huge drive to build new transatlantic cables.  The costs for building new cables jumped due to the demand.  To build a transatlantic cable back then, cost two or three times what it costs today.  Then the market collapsed in 2002.  With a huge oversupply of capacity in the Atlantic, a large number of those cables went into bankruptcy and it put an end to new investment in cable systems. 

The oversupply, however, is coming to an end.  Those cables typically have a 25-year life span and a 15-year or so economic life.  The economic life has been extended a bit through upgrades by the equipment vendors, but the cost of running those cables is roughly the same as running a new cable, however they can carry probably a tenth of the capacity of new cables -- 4-5 Tbps per fiber pair to 20-40 Tbps per fiber pair.  That’s 6 to 8 times the capacity for the same operating cost.

When the opportunity came recently for Aqua Comms to be involved in another cable build in the North Atlantic, we jumped at it.  We worked with consortium partners Facebook, Google and Bulk Infrastructure (a data center operator based in Norway) to develop the HAVFRUE cable; HAVFRUE being the Danish word for “mermaid.” Aqua Comms is the operator of this new high-speed cable and the landing party in New Jersey, Ireland and Denmark.  We call a portion of it – the fiber pairs that we own – AEConnect-2.  We’re also building a brand-new cable across the Irish Sea called CeltixConnect-2 and a cable across the North Sea running from Newcastle, in the UK, to Denmark.  This cable is called North Sea Connect.  Between them, these cables will create a series of ring-based structures between North America and Northern Europe that we are calling the North Atlantic Bridge. 

We are a carriers’ carrier.  There are lots of companies that do wholesale and lots of carriers’ carriers.  The difference with Aqua Comms is that we are only a carriers’ carrier.  We do not service directly the end customers in any place.  We don’t sell to enterprise, we don’t sell to consumers.  We don’t sell to any end-users.  We simply provide capacity for the companies that use telecoms as part of their businesses – ISPs, major content providers and carriers.  We have a team of senior people with 20-30 years of experience within this industry.  We have a series of outsourced relationships that allow us to manage these big submarine assets with an employee base of less than 20.