undersea cable internet traffic

Arctic fibre-optic cable secures first investment

A €1.1bn (£944m) plan to connect Europe and Japan via the first fibre-optic cable across the Arctic has secured its first investment.

The first subsea cable to be laid on the Arctic seabed has secured its first investor, according to Far North Fiber, the joint venture between Cinia, US-based Far North Digital (FND) and Japan's Arteria Networks that is behind the project. 

The Far North Fiber consortium said it plans a 14,000km open network with a 12-fibre-pair cable system and terminal stations in Japan, Ireland and Norway or Finland, as well as a regeneration station in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, for local add/drop.

The cable, which will run from the Nordic countries to Japan via Greenland, Canada and Alaska, is expected to cut delays in data transmission between Frankfurt and Tokyo by around 30 per cent. 

"The Far North Fiber project is an epoch-making project to build the last remaining submarine cable route connecting Europe with Japan and Asia at the lowest latency and will greatly contribute to the further development of the digital infrastructure environment in Japan regions such as Hokkaido," said Koji Kabumoto, CEO of Arteria. 

"In addition, the new international network realised by the Far North Fiber will be able to create new demand for connectivity in a wide range of fields such as industry, academia, and culture in Europe, Japan and Asia," he added.

The first public investor in the project is NORDUnet, a pan-Nordic research and education network operator. The company has reportedly signed a letter of intent with Far North Fiber to finance one of the cable’s 12 planned pairs of fibres. 

The value of the investment was not disclosed, but Reuters has reported that one pair of fibres was worth around €100m, with a further €100m in maintenance costs required throughout its 30-year lifespan.

“Far North Fiber represents a unique partnership, which is going to improve Arctic infrastructure, lead to greater scientific understanding of the environment along the route, and build closer relationships for the connected regions and communities,” Guy Houser, FND’s chief operating officer has said.

This is not the first time the project has been attempted. Last year, an earlier plan to run the cable along the Russian Arctic coastline, in a venture with Russia's second-biggest mobile phone operator Megafon, was cancelled.

The plan's cancellation was reportedly due to Russia's increased reluctance to authorise the cable being laid in its territorial area, Finland's Cinia, the company leading the Far North Fiber consortium, said.

"We may have seen other signs of growing nationalism in Russia and that's what we experienced in the project too," Cinia's chief executive Ari-Jussi Knaapila told Reuters.

Currently, there are around 380 underwater cables in operation around the world, spanning a length of over 1.2 million kilometres (745,645 miles). However, the network cables that connect Europe and Asia primarily run through the Suez Canal, a route that Knaapila considers to be vulnerable to damage from ships.

"We are all more and more dependent on the web and its usability depends on how many alternative routes there are," he said. 

As the internet has become more mobile and wireless, the amount of data travelling across undersea cables has increased exponentially, but so have the potential risks attached, leading to the cancellation of several projects. 

Earlier this week, a US government committee asked the Federal Communications Commission to deny an application to connect Cuba to the United States through a new undersea cable landing station, over national security concerns.

In 2020, Google and  Meta abandoned a proposal to build an undersea cable to Hong Kong after Team Telecom advised against it. Two years earlier, Australia’s security agency banned an undersea cable made by Chinese tech company Huawei from connecting to the Australian broadband network over fears that it could be used by China for cyber espionage.

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