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Advancing connectivity between the Asia-Pacific region and North America

Facebook is working to advance connectivity between the Asia-Pacific region and North America through building two new subsea cables to connect Singapore, Indonesia, and North America. These will be the first transpacific cables through a new diverse route crossing the Java Sea and will increase overall transpacific capacity by 70 percent. Tom Chottayil Varghese, Head of Connectivity and Access Policy Asia-Pacific, Facebook shares his insights on this project.

What is unique about these cables and how will they improve connectivity between North America and Asia-Pacific (APAC)?

At Facebook, we are committed to bringing more people online to a faster internet. As part of this effort, we have partnered with leading regional and global partners to build two new subsea cables — Echo and Bifrost — that will provide vital new connections between the Asia-Pacific region and North America.

Echo and Bifrost will be the first transpacific cables through a new diverse route crossing the Java Sea, but they also will increase overall transpacific capacity by 70 percent. 

For Indonesia, these investments present an opportunity to enhance connectivity in the Central and Eastern Indonesian provinces, providing greater capacity and improved reliability for Indonesia’s international data information infrastructure. Echo and Bifrost complement the subsea cables serving Indonesia today, increasing service quality and supporting the country’s connectivity demands.

In Singapore, we are building on our previously announced Singapore data center investments, and Echo and Bifrost will provide important diverse subsea capacity to power Singapore’s digital growth and connectivity hub. We are excited to build on our other projects that connect to Singapore, including APG and SJC-2. 

What about the current state of internet connectivity in APAC makes these projects urgent and much needed?

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic heightened demand for critical internet access and people not yet connected are being left further behind. The recently released Inclusive Internet Index, shows that quality internet access has become more essential to everyday living than ever before to remain connected while apart, continue their education, take care of their health, and be productively employed. 

In the Asia-Pacific region in particular, the demand for 4G, 5G, and broadband access is rapidly increasing. Many of the existing subsea cables in the region are approaching full capacity and/or the end of their useful life so new investment is required to meet demand for capacity. Echo and Bifrost will support further growth for hundreds of millions of people and millions of businesses. We know that economies flourish when there is widely accessible internet for people and businesses.

Why are subsea cables an important element of improving connectivity?

Subsea cables play a fundamental role in connectivity, by providing international bandwidth between countries and continents. Once this international bandwidth lands from the sea, the data moves through terrestrial networks and points of presence to reach households, businesses and people. The geography of Asia and multiple island nations mean that communities simply cannot be connected by terrestrial cables in the way that it is possible in other places such as Europe. When it comes to connecting countries and continents separated by oceans, submarine cables provide significantly more capacity and lower latency than satellite. 

Echo and Bifrost are both high-fiber count cables employing a state of the art Spatial Division Multiplexing design and an open cable philosophy. Each cable brings significant incremental internet capacity to the cities where it lands, as well as enhancing the overall redundancy of the internet ecosystem. 

Can you share more about your business model and how these two projects plan to support affordable access; e.g., will capacity be sold at cost or low cost to providers?

Facebook’s approach to these investments reflects our commitment to openness and our innovative partnership model. In the case of Echo our partners XL Axiata and Google will have their own capacity. For Bifrost, Keppel and Telin will have their own capacity. 

The cables will increase internet speed and reliability for large parts of Indonesia. In Singapore, the cables will connect with our planned data center and will provide important diverse subsea capacity to power Singapore’s digital growth and connectivity hub.

Will the project work as an open access opportunity for all providers? What do they predict as far as market growth?

APAC is the growth driver for Facebook. Asia has two-thirds of the world’s population living in the region. The region is home to half of the world’s mobile subscribers. More than 90% of businesses in APAC are SMBs, the backbone of our global economy. The region is also leading the use of video consumption and messaging on Facebook. 

Meeting this demand requires investments in connectivity. Facebook’s investment in cables is driven by our internal demand, however, we regulatory have co-investors and partners whose business includes wholesale and/or retail capacity. 

We are excited to partner with companies such as Indonesian companies like Telin and XL Axiata and Singapore-based Keppel on these projects.

Since the middle and last mile connectivity appear to be one of the biggest bottlenecks to affordable access on the continent, is FB contemplating the middle/last mile and infrastructure needed to connect to the end user?

Particularly middle-mile connectivity remains a key bottleneck in many markets. Building out infrastructure represents a large portion of a telecom provider’s costs, and can make it difficult to provide users with high-speed connectivity at affordable prices. 

Facebook supports investments in infrastructure and platforms to drive down the costs of internet bandwidth. We expect our investments to reduce the costs of delivering data and improve network reliability and speeds, as well as encourage open access infrastructure sharing and competition. 

How do you plan to support  local companies?

In Indonesia, Alita and Facebook are investing in 3,000 kilometers of metro fiber to connect more than 1,000 cell sites in Bali, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi in Indonesia. This is Facebook’s largest single terrestrial fiber initiative in Asia to date, and when fully completed, this fiber will bring higher speed internet services to more than 10 million people. Alita will wholly own, build, maintain and operate the network and provide wholesale capacity to MNOs and ISPs. The fiber is open access, providing fair and equitable access to all service providers. 

We recently announced such a similar partnership with Nayatel in Pakistan to invest in fiber broadband to improve and expand connectivity in the country. 

Next steps: How can interested stakeholders follow this work?

At connectivity.fb.com we provide regular updates on our initiatives to bring more people online to a faster internet.