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Underwater cables to boost connectivity in Singapore, Indonesia

Underwater cables are the invisible force driving the modern internet, with many in recent years being funded by internet giants. They carry almost all our communications in a world of wireless networking and smartphones.

The process begins by looking at naval charts to plot the best route. Cables are safest in deep water where they can rest on a relatively flat seabed and will not rub against rocks or be at risk of other disturbances. The deeper the better. A cable that is only a few centimetres thick on the bottom of the ocean must be armoured from its environment as reaches the landing station that links it with the country’s internet backbone.

Yet as the internet has become more mobile and wireless, the amount of data travelling across undersea cables has increased exponentially. Laying a cable is a years-long process that costs millions of dollars.

Now, two international technology companies said that they planned two new undersea cables to connect Indonesia, Singapore and North America in a project along with regional telecommunication companies to boost internet connection capacity between the regions.

Named Echo and Bifrost, those will be the first two cables to go through a new diverse route crossing the Java Sea and they will increase overall subsea capacity in the trans-pacific by about 70%, said the tech giant. The company declined to specify the size of the investment, but said it was “a very material investment in Southeast Asia.”

The cables, according to the executive, will be the first to directly connect North America to some of the main parts of Indonesia and will increase connectivity for the central and eastern provinces of the world’s fourth most populous country.

The two cables, which will need regulatory approval, follow previous investments by the tech companies to build up connectivity in Indonesia, one of its top five markets globally. While 73% of Indonesia’s population of 270 million are online, the majority access the web through mobile data, with less than 10% using a broadband connection, according to a 2020 survey by the Indonesian Internet Providers Association.

The international tech company said last year it would deploy 3,000 km (1,8641 miles) of fibre in Indonesia across twenty cities in addition to a previous deal to develop public Wi-Fi hot spots.

Aside from the Southeast Asian cables, the company was also continuing with its broader subsea plans in Asia and globally, including with the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN). They are working with partners and regulators to meet all the concerns that people have, and they look forward to the cable being a valuable, productive transpacific cable going forward soon, the tech company added.

The 12,800 km PLCN, which is being funded by the same tech companies, had met U.S government resistance over plans for a Hong Kong conduit. It was originally intended to link the United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. The tech giant said earlier this month it would drop efforts to connect the cable between California and Hong Kong due to ongoing concerns from the U.S. government about direct communication links between the United States and Hong Kong.

Accordingly, reports say that the motivations for the improvement of connectivity in the ASEAN are two-fold: first, the importance of ASEAN as an emerging online market and the subsequent innovation created is increasing strongly. The ASEAN regional bloc encompasses economies now recognised to be some of the most prolific users of smartphones and social media in the world, and the Internet is increasingly viewed as a critical driver of economic growth and social development.

Second, ASEAN is rapidly approaching an iconic milestone, by the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), connectivity, encompassing the physical, human, and digital arenas, is one of the most critical requirements the ASEAN economies need to achieve to reduce development gaps, enhance competitiveness and ultimately move closer to achieving the region’s ambitious goals.

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