An interview with Paul W. Scott, Principal/Co-Founder, Confluence Networks LLC

Editor’s Note: As the factors driving the current submarine fiber optic cable building spree continue to strengthen, new projects are emerging along routes that were largely ignored previously.  One of these projects is for a domestic cable system along the East Coast of the United States, being developed by Confluence Networks LCC, co-founded by industry veterans Paul W. Scott and David G. Ross.  SubCableWorld recently had the pleasure to speak with Mr. Scott, who detailed the project and the factors that led to its development.

Paul Scott: As our company name suggests, we felt that the confluence of many things – technological developments in the submarine cable industry, ever-increasing year-on-year bandwidth growth, projected new transatlantic, other new subsea systems expected to land the US East Coast, etc. – made it the right time to consider this new cable system.  Called Confluence-1, it will provide a truly diverse route along the U.S. East Coast and will include the latest technology, while providing      a new path that avoids terrestrial choke points. 

We’ve really seen a step-change in technology recently. Forever it seemed like we were stuck on eight fiber pairs.  Some credit is definitely owed to the internet content providers (“OTT’s) for challenging the subsea vendors to think outside the box to enable far greater fiber counts and corresponding bandwidth carrying capability.  Today, 12, 18 fiber pair systems are now operating and we fully expect 24-fiber-pair systems will be in service soon.  We plan to use that technology on Confluence-1.  We believe that we could be the second or third operational 24-pair system on the planet. 

The trend is our friend.  If we were still at eight fiber pairs, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.  But the trend is for greater and greater amounts of capacity that need diverse and robust routes.  We believe that Confluence-1 is part of the solution. 

We’ve seen strong interest in our project and we recently announced Mastec Inc. as our partner and equity investor.  Mastec is a well-respected U.S. company with 20,000 employees across 380 locations and has tremendous experience with big infrastructure projects.

Confluence-1 will be upwards of 2,700-kilometers long.  While the exact landing points are still to be determined, the plan is to have an express route between South Florida and the New York/New Jersey area.  In between, it will have branches landing in Jacksonville, Florida; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

With the exception of Myrtle Beach, all of the landing points are well established.  In the NY/NJ area, NJFX in Wall Township is a potential co-location partner and there is also existing front-haul, marine duct availability Confluence may consider utilizing.  They have an attractive array of available assets.  Everybody knows about Virginia Beach.  Look at how quickly that cable landing station and the nearby data centers have developed.  There’s a lot of traffic moving through it now.  That’s a viable option for us as well.  Jacksonville is also an established location.  The PCCS cable lands there.  I was a party to the PCCS consortium during my days at Cable & Wireless Networks.  America Movil’s AMX-1 also lands in Jacksonville.  We hear rumblings of more cables coming.  And, of course, South Florida has no shortage of legacy cables that converge there, and really is where the intercontinental traffic handoffs occur in the Americas region.

Regarding Myrtle Beach, I see it as the art of the possible.  There is a lot of development in that area and serious talk about it becoming the next subsea gateway.  Time will tell if that’s true.  We believe it has tremendous potential, though.  Just look at the number of data centers in the Carolinas. 

When I think back at my watch at Cable & Wireless Networks, one of my frustrations was the north-south terrestrial route (Florida-NY) coming out of our LATAM traffic patterns.  It was a challenge to move that traffic in an elegant, reliable and scalable way northbound.  That’s not to say there aren’t some great carriers and plenty of capacity options, but for those who might require a robust and seamless dark fiber route, it’s a big challenge to do that terrestrially now and for the foreseeable future.  So, Confluence-1 was born out of discovery;  “There’s got to be a better way.”  It’s a challenge to build new secure, long-haul underground fiber routes considering the permitting, the cost of HDD, etc.  That’s what made us wonder if a subsea route would be a better solution.

Confluence-1 will include an express grouping of fiber, a local grouping of fiber and an intelligent ROADM.  We will be offering fiber pairs for a limited time, both express between South Florida and New Jersey and local along each branch, as well as fast, flexible and scalable capacity services.  These will be fully provisioned and managed by Confluence Networks, as part of the O&M service, and with rapid turn up as standard.

We have a lot of work to do and it’s underway at all levels.  You never know about permits but we think we have a pretty good sense about how to get this done. 

Regarding the routing of the cable along the coast, we’re trying to balance latency and cost.  We can’t just tighten it up on the shoreline.  You have to consider all of the ship traffic, commercial fishing and other activities in this near shore region.  There are pretty big parcels designated for offshore wind farm development.  There are legacy cables to cross.  What kind of burial are you going to get      if you start nudging the route towards the shoreline?  There are marine sanctuaries.  This will all play out in the desk-top study and planned marine survey that will follow.  To the extent possible, you ideally want the trunk to get placed in deepest water possible.  However we will be balancing that against the desired low latency goals which results in also routing over the Continental Shelf – another factor is achieving good burial depths, which isn’t always a given, especially when we’ll be dealing with the powerful Gulf Stream.  We’re trying to balance all of these factors. Striving for lowest latency is very important but we also want the system to be robust, reliable and there when our customers need it. 

On-premise compute power is increasingly yesterday’s technology.  Rapid adoption, and reliance of off premise cloud platforms and virtual server environments results in the criticality for connectivity uptime availability. If you’re an international, domestic carrier or telecom services provider, with a stable of enterprise,  and other private and public sector customers, they’re pretty demanding these days.  They need multi-route functionality because downtime, when you relying on such distant cloud platforms and their ever growing cloud apps, is not a good thing.  Increasingly, it seems there’s never enough redundancy and diversity.  We believe Confluence-1 can provide the industry with a truly fully diverse, reliable and scalable new option.  And we also see Confluence-1 as a national security asset.  It provides a uniquely secure routing of critical traffic in the event of national emergencies which could impact terrestrial network performance.   

Currently, we project that Confluence-1 will be RFS and go into service latter part of 2023.

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