The fifth episode of SubOptic’s Spotlight series of webinars took place on June 17.  Entitled Maintaining Global Network Continuity, the webinar featured a prominent cast of executives from leading global telecom operators. 

Our colleagues at Ocean Specialists Inc. (OSI) provided a summary of the event. 

Participants:

  • Jayne Stowell, SubOptic introducer/presider
  • Elaine Stafford, DRG, Moderator
  • Andy Lumsden, Telstra
  • Sohali Qadir, Omantel
  • Dave Temkin, Netflix
  • Jean-Luc Vuillemin, Orange
  • Vijay Vusiri, Google
  • Eric Contag, GlobeNet

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the participants noted the surge in bandwidth demand beginning in the spring of 2020. 

Vusiri of Google said that demand initially surged as high 30 times the normal rate at certain times of day.  He said demand has now broadened out and is more like twice as high as before, but for longer durations. 

Vuillemin of Orange reported that voice traffic increased by 3-5 times normal immediately after the respective economies began shutting down.  Some markets rose by 10 times the normal amount of traffic within a matter of minutes.  Internet revenue increased sharply due to the demand.  Residential demand increased 60-70% typically, 80% in some markets.  Orange also saw a 4-times normal spike in France-US capacity usage. 

Qadir of Omantel noted that mobile network had a huge surge as economies shut down.  Wholesale submarine cable activity increased 35-38% in the February-March period.  Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and other markets saw huge surges in data demand.  Generally speaking, however, demand has now flattened a bit.  The combination of COVID-19, the Ramadan and Eid holidays created a surge in voice traffic as people were calling each other even more than usual.  COVID-19 has created the opportunity in wholesale for cooperation among carriers in an effort to keep up with demand. 

Lumsden of Telstra said that, in their case, traffic demand surge impact has been more route-specific.  In wholesale, Telstra has seen a 30% surge, while in VPN it has been more like a 40% surge.  In IP traffic, Telstra’s customers are looking for greater flexibility and are seeing exponential growth in addition.  Since January 2020, they have seen a spike in 100-Gbps services for international connectivity – up 15%. 

The Spotlight also discussed the impact on cable outages on network resiliency.  Qadir noted that there are 14 cables coming into Oman, so Omantel has sufficient submarine cable resiliency built in.  It wouldn't be out of the ordinary to have multiple cable network outages at any one time, this would still be manageable. 

Lumsden noted that there weren’t a significant number of outages in their network regions during the crisis, so it didn’t add to the level of crisis.  On the other hand, Vuillemin noted that in the African region alone, there were more than twelve simultaneous submarine cable network outages.  This compounded the challenges already created by the surge in demand from COVID-19.  

Contag of GlobeNet noted that standby agreements can help during network outages, especially at lower capacities, but at Tbps levels it becomes much harder to restore traffic. 

It also was noted that carriers typically provision for 70% network utilization, while OTTs typically provision for 30% network utilization.

While COVID-19 has had a huge impact on bandwidth demand, it has not fundamentally changed the secular need for continual planning, expansion and construction of additional submarine cable network capacity. 

Temkin of Netflix said that they are more edge-oriented with their content.  For Netflix, submarine cables are more important for network stability than content delivery.  He said that usually Netflix has its annual plan completed nine months in advance for each year and then just execute, but more and more, it has evolved into a continual planning and implementation process.  Submarine cables definitely play a role in distribution, but not so much in real-time delivery, which is done more locally and more critical to the end-user experience.

In Omantel’s opinion, cable planning still takes 1½ to 2 years to plan and this work will continue – the pandemic has not changed that.  Omantel is working on two new large-scale submarine cable projects in partnership with OTTs.  For Telstra, there hasn't been much impact on their business planning.  Many cables already in planning will continue to move forward – some of these will succeed or fail on the usual business considerations and merits.  Google says there has been no real change to their network investment plans – they plan from an overall network perspective, not from the perspective of any one, single cable.