Undersea fiber coasts to South America
A $214 million Pan-American undersea fiber-optic cable system is planned to connect the United States with Central and South America, with commercial service expected to begin in mid-1998. The 7000-km cable system will run from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Aruba, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile (see figure on page 31).
MCI Corp. in Washington, DC, is the largest U.S. shareholder of the new system; AT&T and Sprint Corp. are also participants. The other five largest partners include, in order of their investment, Telefonica de Peru, Telecom Italia, Emetel Ecuador, cantv (Venezuela) and Telecom Colombia. MCI de Venezuela is also an investor in the cable.
As the primary operator in the Pan-American build, MCI owns circuits in virtually every major undersea cable in the world. The company implemented Latin America`s first digital services between MCI and Chile in 1989.
"The Pan-American cable provides the first undersea fiber-optic service to the northwest coast of South America," according to Seth Blumenfeld, president of MCI International. "It will allow MCI to offer services to South America that are not available today, including broadband-switched services and access to the Internet."
AT&T Submarine Systems Inc. (at&t-ssi) and Alcatel Submarine Networks are major suppliers for this system. According to Bill Carter, president of at&t-ssi, "This undersea highway will make this region more attractive for everyone."
Jacques Leclercq, president of Alcatel Submarine Networks, says, "Advanced telecommunications today is not a luxury, but a necessity."
The Pan-American fiber-optic cable network is expected to be constructed as a trunk-and-branch system operating in a collapsed-ring configuration. This architecture allows self-healing capabilities within the network. It is also the first international South American undersea cable to use Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) technology, which provides a capacity of 2.4 Gbits/ sec--equivalent to 60,480 single voice channels. With this technology, most of these channels are multiplexed to get five times the capacity in usable voice channels, thereby providing more than 300,000 usable voice channels.
Commenting on the significance of the Pan-American submarine cable project, Catherine Forster Connolly, director of Latin America Research for Pyramid Research Inc., Cambridge, MA, says, "The most important aspects of the submarine cable are the opportunities that the cable will bring in terms of broadband transmission and the increase in interconnectivity between North, South, and Central America, as well as Europe."
She explains that with optical fiber and the SDH protocol, the submarine cable will provide a medium for transmission of large volumes of data, voice, and images in a reliable and expeditious manner. "As demand for broadband applications increases, SDH fiber optics is becoming one of the most important and demanded transmission media," Connolly says.
In addition, through direct links or drop points in the United States, Aruba, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, the cable will serve as a direct link between the United States and Central and South America. Countries in which the Pan-American submarine cable does not have direct links will have indirect access through terrestrial fiber-optic networks that link into the submarine cable.
"To illustrate, Argentina will have access to the cable through the Transandino fiber-optic link between Argentina and Chile," Connolly explains. "Moreover, the cable will interconnect with previous submarine cables such as Americas I and Columbus II, which will ensure interconnectivity with North America and Europe."
She also thinks the undersea fiber project is notable for the level of operator participation throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. There are three operators from the United States, four from South America, and one from Europe.
In his presentation at the recent Kessler Marketing Intelligence Corp. Conference on Fiber Optics Markets in Newport, RI, Roberto R. Cofre, head of the international fiber-optic section of Entel-Chile, said that the Pan-American cable, plus terrestrial facilities in Chile and Argentina, will form a fiber-optic ring around South America. Entel-Chile is also studying the feasibility of a submarine cable, called TPC South, which will connect Chile with New Zealand and Australia. q