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Submarine Cable Systems Help Bridge Global Information Gap

10 Times Around Earth in 60 Years
NEC Expands Global Communications Infrastructure

Submarine cable systems currently carry 99 percent of all international communications, enabling high-speed transmission of vast amounts of data. Back in 1995, half of all intercontinental communications were carried by satellites and half by submarine cable systems. The current network of some 400 cables around the world has a total length of 1.4 million kilometers.

Thanks to submarine cable systems, we can use our smartphones and computers to watch videos from around the world, gather information, make hotel reservations, and much more.

Demand for international communication lines is further growing against the backdrop of the rapid globalization of telecommunications services and the spread of 5G, with an expected annual growth rate of 35 percent between 2020 and 2026. The transmission capacity per submarine cable has jumped 100-fold over the past 20 years.

Digital technology is indispensable in all areas of national administration, economy, education and culture. It is also essential in international transactions.

On the other hand, there is a growing economic disparity between developed countries and those with underdeveloped digital infrastructures. Even within countries and regions, disparities in education and culture are emerging.

Submarine cable systems are playing a crucial role in bridging this global digital divide, connecting people to people and countries to countries through digital technology.

60 years as a leading supplier of submarine cable systems

NEC has been a leading supplier of submarine cable systems for 60 years, and has built more than 400,000 kilometers of cable, enough to circle the Earth 10 times.

What kind of technology is needed to lay submarine cable systems? First, a cable system needs to be very strong and highly pressure-resistant in order achieve its 25-year design life on the seabed at depths of up to 8,000 meters.

In addition, because the seabed is a complex environment, with volcanoes, steep ridges and cliffs, a submarine cable must be laid precisely on a carefully-defined route. Submarine cable systems are loaded onto a cable-laying vessel and begin their downward journey from sea level. The work requires extremely sophisticated technology which takes account of ocean currents and other factors. At a depth of 4,000 meters, it is like dropping a ball from the height of Mt Fuji onto a specific point on the ground. Years of technological development as well as technical skills and experience are required.

Pulling up cables from the deep water is also difficult, and repair work is not easy when cables are damaged or severed by natural disasters such as earthquakes. It can take a few weeks to repair a cable. 

Features of a submarine cable system

But NEC submarine cable systems are strong and durable enough to require repair work less than three times on average during a 25-year product lifetime, which demonstrates the company's high level of technological capabilities. Below are recent examples of NEC’s submarine cable systems which connect islands.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands Project

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the southern Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean are home to various indigenous peoples. Some of the groups are subject to protection policies that prohibit outsiders from entering restricted areas or contacting islanders to protect their unique way of life.

The communication infrastructure was poor and even the sending and receiving of emails could only be done reliably early in the morning or late at night, when the volume of regional communication was low.
In recent years, India has been promoting its Digital India vision, a major initiative to transform the country as a whole into a digital nation, with the aim of eliminating this information gap. A project to lay submarine cable systems in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was part of the initiative.

The route is some 2,300 kilometers long, connecting eight points in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to Chennai on the Bay of Bengal coast in eastern India. NEC signed a supply contract with the Government of India in 2018 through its local subsidiary NEC Corporation India. After accomplishing the difficult process of marine surveys and laying the cable, the handover to India's state-owned telecommunications carrier Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) was completed in 2020.

Cable route of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands project

Local people showed interest in the project from its earliest stages, seeking to learn about the installation timetable and potential impact on their lives. This provided a strong motivation for project members.

The completion of the submarine cable system has greatly improved the communication environment in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, enabling them to receive administrative and educational services similar to those available in mainland India, and even to watch streaming content and browse foreign websites.

Lakshadweep Islands Project

NEC was also involved in the Kochi-Lakshadweep Islands Submarine Cable (KLI) project to lay cables totaling 1,870 kilometers between Kochi, a major port city in southwest India, and 11 of the Lakshadweep Islands off the Malabar coast of India. The contract was signed with BSNL in 2021. The project went smoothly and was completed in 2023.

Cable route of the Lakshadweep Islands project

The telecommunications environment has improved dramatically. Some 65,000 residents in the Lakshadweep Islands now fully utilize digital information in all areas such as administration, commerce and education, enhancing their living standards significantly.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kavaratti Island on January 3, 2024 and proudly stated during a ceremony that the project had been completed within the 1,000-day target he had promised.

New Project Launched in Eastern Micronesia

Following these achievements, NEC signed a contract to supply a new cable system, the East Micronesia Cable System (EMCS), in June 2023. This project covers the Pacific island states of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of Kiribati and the Republic of Nauru. It is the first submarine cable system in the region, with a total length of 2,250 kilometers connecting four islands between the three countries.

It is being laid from Tawara in Kiribati, via Nauru and Kosrae (FSM) to Pohnpei (FSM). The cable will connect to the landing point of the existing submarine cable system at Pohnpei.

EMCS cable route

Japan, the United States and Australia are supporting Pacific islanders’ Sustainable Development Goals through effective partnerships, and this project is part of that initiative. 

The submarine cable system is expected to bring significant benefits in terms of economic development as well as education and livelihood. In November 2023, a ceremony was held in Pohnpei before the departure of the RV Bold Explorer, a research vessel investigating maritime conditions in the region to plot a route for the cable. Government officials from the nations involved gathered at the ceremony and voiced their encouragement and expectations.

A ceremony held in Pohnpei in November 2023 during the port call of RV Bold Explorer.

Realizing More Comfortable, Safer Life

With the recent digitalization of the world, internet connectivity and access to digital technology has had a growing impact on economic and social development. NEC is contributing to the expansion of international telecommunications infrastructure, proudly playing a part in bridging the global digital divide by connecting continents and people all over the world through digital technology. This series of submarine cable system projects embodies NEC's purpose through its state-of-the-art technologies.

(From left)Yukinori Toyota, Yasuhiro Hasegawa
Submarine Project Department, NEC

Yasuhiro Hasegawa, executive professional at Submarine Project Department, said: “Submarine cables are now an indispensable part of society as a communications infrastructure connecting the world. We want to continue to provide highly reliable submarine cable systems so that the digital divide can be bridged, and people can access information from around the world on an equal footing, allowing them to lead richer lives.”

Yukinori Toyota, assistant manager at Submarine Project Department, said: “I was involved in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands project in India and witnessed the fact that submarine cables can make a big difference to the lives of the people living there. The EMCS project will be the first submarine cable connection for some of these island nations. We would like to continue building communication systems, hoping that residents can share the many benefits.”


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