SubCableWorld is continuing its coverage of a webinar conducted last month entitled, Building the Submarine Networks of the Future with SMART Cables. 

Last week, we covered a presentation by Steve Lentz, Director of Network System Science and Engineering at Ocean Specialists Inc. (OSI) and Co-Chair Engineering of the SMART Cables Joint Task Force. 

This week, we are summarizing the keynote by Bruce Howe, Chair, SMART Cables Joint Task Force (JTF) and Professor of Ocean and Resources Engineering at the University of Hawaii. 

SMART stands for Science Monitoring and Reliable Telecommunications.  The basic idea is to combine submarine telecom cables and ocean sensing for ocean and climate monitoring and disaster warning by embedding sensors in the repeaters of commercial submarine fiber optic cables.  Simultaneous with these cables transmitting Internet traffic, the sensors would be collecting scientific data on the ocean. 

The SMART Cables Joint Task Force was set up in 2012 by three UN agencies – the International Telecommunications Union, the World Meteorological Organization and the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission – to bring this concept to fruition. 

Professor Howe began by saying, “The ocean is the flywheel of the planet.  Submarine cables will make a significant addition to the current observing systems.  There are absolute benefits for this kind of ocean observing: Disaster warning for tsunamis and earthquakes, studying sea level rise and climate change and societal connectivity enabling progress with resilient and sustainable telecom infrastructure.” 

SMART will draw upon existing systems and proven cabled ocean observing systems.  These include:

  • Japan’s S-Net, DONET and N-Net (under construction)
  • Neptune Canada
  • OOI-RCA in the United States

Japan also has Sanriku; a small, low-cost system that is close to the SMART concept.

It’s not an observing system, but Prof. Howe noted that Xtera includes accelerometers as standard kit in their repeaters, mainly for engineering purposes.  They’re not seismic quality but he said that this is definitely a step forward. 

In discussing costs, Prof. Howe noted that the plug-and-play systems are expensive, as are early warning systems like S-Net with in-line instrumentation.  With SMART, there is a sharing of infrastructure with telecom should bring only incremental costs.  There is no wet maintenance for SMART and the JTF would pick and choose the systems to work with that make the most sense in many ways. 

He presented data that standard telecom cables cost of between US$25,000 and $40,000 per kilometer.  In a white paper presented for Ocean Observation 2019 entitled SMART Cables for Observing the Global Ocean: Science and Implementation, the JTF laid out a scenario where it judged the incremental cost of a SMART addition would be only 10%. 

Prof. Howe continued, “The underlying concept of SMART is that submarine cables are shared critical infrastructure.  SMART combines telecom with early warning, climate and science with shared benefits for all.  We also want to keep it simple initially in all respects; not just technical but programmatically.  In that way the countries that want the SMART capabilities for societal benefit can participate.  These countries will have significant government involvement to encourage the process and provide funding.  We’re looking at a situation with a domestic system internal to one country or with facilitating countries to obviate the permitting and security concerns. 

In terms of financing, we see very heavy government involvement, as well as multilateral development banks, non-traditional funding and commercial funding.  Hopefully there will be incentives, such as tax breaks, expedited permitting and Green Bonds.  SMART Cables will bring no loss of utility to the telecom payload.  They also provide opportunities to demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).”