Connecting the world with submarine cables

27 March 2019

Today the world relies on subsea cables to transport 99 per cent of international data – the remaining one per cent is transmitted via satellite. The first cable was laid between England and France in the 1850s and made of copper for transmitting Morse code one character every two minutes.

Thanks to the optical fibre invented by Professor Charles Kao, modern subsea cables can carry more than 72Tbps of traffic, equivalent to streaming millions of high-quality movies a second simultaneously.

Rising worldwide data demand

With the rising volume of network traffic created by cloud computing, video streaming, social media, and ecommerce, the capacity demand on worldwide submarine cables has been increasing by around 30 per cent each year. However, protecting this infrastructure is not always an easy task. These cables can be damaged by three major threats: shallow shipping ports, fishing and natural disasters. Sending a cable repair ship to the site can take days, not to mention the sophisticated process needed in bringing the damaged section from deep water (up to 3,000 metres) to the surface for onboarding and reconnecting the optical fibres.

In the Asia Pacific, around 30 per cent of active capacity is carried by Telstra’s subsea network system. Laid end-to-end, it has more than 400,000 kilometres of cables – which could stretch around the world almost ten times. Hong Kong is a major network hub for Telstra, with six landing stations connecting to eight submarine cables.

They enable millions of consumers and businesses to connect to the internet and with each other around the world. This infrastructure is a core service Telstra provides to large and emerging cloud and content companies, global and regional mobile operators, as well as multinational corporations requiring connectivity across Asia Pacific.

To cater for the growing data demand well into the future with high quality connection, Telstra has invested in new cable systems. Hong Kong Americas (HKA) and Pacific Light Cable Networks (PLCN) are under construction for new capacity between Hong Kong and the US. INDIGO will be launched in July 2019 to connect Perth, Singapore and Jakarta. In December 2018, Telstra also announced the investment of new Southern Cross NEXT between Sydney and Los Angeles.

“It was an exciting opportunity to contribute to our cable investment plan. This involved a thorough understanding of supply and demand factors, strategic thinking on competition, as well as on how technological evolution affects the market dynamics,” said Dr Chung Ng (Croucher Scholarship 2005), Senior Strategist at Telstra.

“Based on a fixed investment budget, we determined the optimal allocation of resources across a few cable systems so that we can serve our customers seamlessly with the strongest redundancy protection offered in the market.”

Chung’s engineering background has helped him immensely in his role at Telstra. “Network engineering was my favourite subject during my undergraduate and master degrees at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). I still remember a lecture given by Professor Charles Kao at CUHK about his engineering experience as well as his passion in optical fibre research. I would never have imagined I would have an opportunity to be involved in laying out his invention across the ocean. It was very exciting,” Chung said.

AI and Big Data on networks

At Telstra, Chung shifted his focus in late 2017 to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data strategy. “We have a huge amount of network logs and condition records over our network infrastructure and sites every day. With the advancements in machine learning (ML) algorithms together with the massive increase in computing power supported by our cloud, we can offer superior experiences for what matters most to our customers.”

For example, in the past, telecom operators recognised network issues when customers were impacted, he said. “By training ML models with historical patterns and applying an optimised model on live data streams, our team can signal potential incidents before they affect our customers. This turns maintenance from the reactive to proactive.

“Technical know-how is always a key component of my work. I strongly believe it is important to have a good understanding of both technical and business knowledge. By combining both, I hope to contribute to the development and application of the emerging technologies in 5G, IoT (internet of things), and AI/ML,” Chung said.

“It’s fascinating to see technologies being adopted in our daily lives and creating impact.”

Dr Chung Ng (Croucher Scholarship 2005)

Dr Chung Ng is a Senior Strategist (Big Data and AI) at Telstra. He joined Telstra’s International Corporate Strategy team in 2016. He was previously an Associate Partner of Cluster Technology Limited and an Associate of McKinsey & Company. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chung completed his BEng and MPhil degrees in Information Engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2003 and 2005. He received a Croucher Scholarship in 2005, IET Robinson Research Scholarship and Overseas Graduate Scholarship of St Catherine’s College to work towards his doctorate degree in wireless ad-hoc and sensor networks at Oxford University. 

To view Dr Chung’s Croucher profile, please click here