In late September, submarine fiber optic systems supplier Xtera® announced that it had been awarded a turnkey contract from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, to build a submarine cable system linking the U.S. Navy’s base at Guantanamo Bay to Puerto Rico. 

Xtera will deploy a full turnkey subsea system, including undersea optical repeaters, Nu-Wave Optima™ Submarine Line Terminal Equipment (SLTE), cable and all marine services.  The Nu-Wave Optima is Xtera’s optical Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) transport that provides industry-leading capacity and ultra-long-reach capabilities configured to support all networking applications.

SubCableWorld recently had the opportunity to speak with Xtera’s Robert Richardson, Founder and Chief Sales Officer, and Tony Frisch, Chief Technical Officer, about this latest development.  Here are some of their comments:

SCW:

Tell us something about this new contract award.

Robert:

The project is a new cable running from the naval base at Guantanamo Bay to a military facility in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Army base at Fort Buchanan.  Xtera received the contract a few years ago from DISA for the first cable landing in Guantanamo Bay, which connected the base with Florida, and we’re happy to have been chosen for this second project.  This is our first turnkey contract since the acquisition by H.I.G. Capital and the team is really excited. 

Tony:

I think it was a really nice project to work on last time.  We built up a good rapport with the guys from the government side and everyone is looking forward to getting in and making the new project happen.

SCW:

The announcement came shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.  We have to ask if the damage from the hurricane will impact the project.

Tony:

We don’t expect it to.  The military base that the cable will be landing at was not seriously damaged – those buildings are made to withstand a lot of punishment.  There obviously will be some logistical challenges in the short term in getting our people there to begin the process in terms of things like airline schedules and hotels, but the project itself should proceed on schedule.

SCW:

The first cable landing at the base at Guantanamo Bay was completed in 2016.  What sort of impact did that cable have on Internet services at the base?

Robert:

Guantanamo Bay is a functioning naval facility with a lot of people and their dependents living there.  I know from the interactions that we’ve had that since the first cable was placed in Guantanamo Bay that it has enabled a lot of things to be done in the naval facility -- not only for the Navy itself but also for the families and dependents.  They’ve been able to get Internet services that we normally take for granted here on the continent.  It’s been pretty exciting, from what I hear, what they’ve been able to do with the submarine cable from that perspective. 

SCW:

Tony, are there any technological features of this new cable system that you would like to talk about?

Tony:

The military likes to use equipment that they have tested and formally approved in the past, so this is essentially a rerun of the same technology.  Separately, Xtera continue to develop our technology and one of our latest products for regional systems such as this is a Branching Unit (BU). We developed the BU and completed the Qualification process last year.  The differentiating feature of Xtera’s BU it has interesting resiliency in that we can power the branching unit from a single cable, although in normal operation it will be powered from both ends. 

Now you say, “Well, if you’ve brought everything to the point where can only get the power from one cable, the branching unit’s not going anywhere else.”  But it turns out that in a lot of systems, if you’re unlucky with certain types of cable breaks, if you really need say two out of three cables to power a branching unit, it can make life a lot more difficult.  We had one very knowledgeable customer warn us about this some time back and they told us we need to really think about resilience when you are doing your design. 

So we’ve actually designed our system so that we can power it from a single cable and it turns out once we thought about that it is a great way to power up the system.  Essentially you start at one point and you just go from one branching unit to another to another.  I think it makes it much easier to re-power a system after a cable fault has occurred or while one is performing a repair.  With older cable systems, when they do have to make a repair it means a lot of coordination between stations.  We’ve had customers or potential customers complain that that they can sometimes spend hours powering up their systems because it is very complicated.  And people get very nervous when they’re doing this stuff because if anything goes wrong, it could be quite painful.

SCW:

Looking ahead, what can we expect to see from Xtera?

Robert:

Our chief focus is addressing the customer’s needs and working closely with customers to meet their requirements.  We’re making efforts to increase the capacity in our undersea systems.  We’re introducing more capacity and we have plans to expand to greater amounts of bandwidth in the undersea cables.  The current bandwidth is 55nm and it’s going to go up to 63nm and beyond. 

Tony:

We’re definitely pushing the bandwidth because it is something that is practical for us to do, but also it is being driven by customers.  The other thing we’ve seen a lot recently is significant interest in open systems, disaggregation and virtualization.  These also are being driven by the industry.  We are seeing that from the people that we think are most likely to be either buying from us the first time or will be buying again.  And we’ll be looking hard to understand in a detailed way what is driving this.  We’re developing some new products and we’ve just been doing interoperation testing with another supplier as part of the support for being completely open and to help customers push the open systems model out.