Last week during the recent International Telecoms Week (ITW) conference and gathering place for telecom professionals, Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks made an announcement regarding a new record for unrepeatered transmission over a submarine fiber optic cable system. This followed an Xtera announcement a few weeks earlier, also announcing record-breaking unrepeatered transmission distances.

Both records pushed the boundary for unrepeatered transmission past the 600 kilometer mark. As is the case with so many technologies, it was only a few years ago that the existing record was only half as much.

Unrepeatered systems is an often overlooked segment of the submarine fiber optic cable market. Projects that involve a few hundred kilometers of unrepeatered cable tend to be less dramatic than those connecting continents with many thousands of kilometers of repeatered cable. It is a segment, however, that has the potential to grow quickly in the coming years.

Unrepeatered systems are, due to the distance limitations, usually are reserved for domestic projects or point-to-point international links between countries separated by small bodies of water. They are considerably less expensive than repeatered systems, however. Increasing the transmission distance for unrepeatered systems can open up many new potential projects that are currently too costly to connect using repeatered cables.

At the same time, as we have noted many times in our annual Radar Screen Report, there is a growing desire to connect isolated populations – frequently islands – to deliver reliable and affordable broadband access. Not all that long ago, connecting small or underdeveloped populations would not be considered viable in terms of return on investment. Now, with broadband access being considered an economic development necessity and a basic human right, governments and NGOs are providing funding to isolated communities that wouldn’t have dared dream about not so long ago.

As unrepeatered distances increase, more islands are coming within range of the global submarine cable network. This is good news for the populations of those islands as well as for the submarine cable industry. More accessibility to affordable solutions means more projects will get financing.