Three new submarine cables advance Guam as a telecommunications hub
By Lara Ozaki
Fiber optic submarine cables are making their way to the region in large numbers this year, each laying a path for more reliable and faster connectivity for the geographically remote islands of Micronesia and meanwhile strengthening Guam’s value as a cable hub between countries.
Guam gained a third cable landing station in April at Tepungan Reef Flat in Piti and has three new cables in development this year. The Northern Mariana Islands gained a second cable system from Guam, and the islands of Yap, Chuuk and Palau will all be connected for the first time by cable to the rest of the world in the coming months.
A second link for the NMI
Docomo Pacific Inc. started laying its Atisa submarine fiber-optic cable system on May 6 in Guam, followed by landings in Saipan on May 11, Tinian on May 18 and Rota on May 25. Docomo plans on its commercial launch in August to deliver the same services available on Guam to Saipan, Rota and Tinian. This includes a 4G mobile network, internet speeds up to 100Mbps, TiVo and more than 200 cable TV channels.
The cable system will span 173 miles and incorporate six optical fiber pairs, providing two-way data transmission and a minimum design capacity of 4.8 terabits per second on each pair.
“This is a really important step in our ability to create the One Marianas vision that we have at Docomo Pacific, to really offer a seamless experience to our customers across Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Rota. The enabler is Atisa,” says Jonathan Kriegel, president and CEO of Docomo Pacific.
Prior to Atisa, Docomo had purchased capacity on the sole undersea cable route owned by competing carrier IT&E, according to Liezl R. Balan, Atisa submarine cable project manager.
IT&E has operated the sole Northern Mariana Islands–Guam cable since 2011.
“I think Tinian and Rota have traditionally been forgotten, in terms of the range of telecommunications services. One of the things we’re definitely doing with Atisa is that we’re also making investments, so we’re going to put up new cell sites, we’ll have LTE when we launch Atisa in Tinian and Rota, not just Saipan, the 100 Mbps will be available, TiVo will be available — we’re not forgetting about the communities of Tinian and Rota,” Kriegel says.
SEA-U.S. diversifies routes from U.S.
The $260 million Southeast Asia–U.S. submarine cable, or SEA-U.S., which links Davao, Philippines; Manado, Indonesia; Piti, Guam; Honolulu; and Hermosa Beach, Calif., landed in Guam April 24 at GTA’s new landing station at Tepungan Reef Flat in Piti. The cable, being constructed by NEC Corp. of Tokyo, is scheduled to be online in July, two months ahead of the initially scheduled date, says Roland S. Certeza, executive vice president of sales and marketing at GTA.
The cable project involves a consortium of seven telecommunications companies including Teleguam Holdings LLC, which does business as GTA; PT. Telekomunikasi Indonesia International (Telin); Globe Telecom; RAM Telecom International (RTI); Hawaiian Telecom; GTI Corp. (a member of the Globe Telecom group of companies); and Telkom U.S.A.
SEA-U.S. will provide an additional 20 terabits per second capacity for Guam, compared to 7.2 terabits per second with the existing cable connecting Guam to the United States — the 12,427-mile Asia-America Gateway cable system, which is owned by 19 partners, including AT&T.
Whereas the majority of trans-Pacific cables coming from the U.S. West Coast travel through Japan and are subject to seismic activity, the 9,320-mile SEA-U.S. cable will connect Guam to California through Hawaii, which diversifies the connections to Guam, thereby allowing for more reliable services. AAG also travels through Hawaii, but two Pacific cables connected to Guam are laid farther north.
“There’s demand for sure to get out of these locations to a separate system. SEA-U.S. provides that diversity,” Certeza says.
California Pacific Technical Services LLC, better known as CalPac, oversaw the landing operation working alongside Smithbridge, Duenas, Camacho & Associates and Trident Cross Diving and Marine Services. The landing involved pulling the cable via tugboat from a ship to a lead pipe, where it was then winched to GTA’s Piti cable landing station across Marine Corps Drive that houses equipment to power the cable.
Hong Kong cable construction begins
The construction of the Hong Kong–Guam Cable System commenced in April, according to an announcement by RTI Connectivity Pte. Ltd. of Singapore and NEC Corp. The 2,400-mile undersea cable, featuring 100 gigabits per second of optical transmission capabilities will deliver design capacity of more than 48 terabits per second and is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2019.
On Guam, the cable will land in Piti at the recently completed GTA cable landing station. In Hong Kong, the cable is slated to land in Tseung Kwan O.
HK-G will contribute to the expansion of communications networks between Asia and the United States while complementing other regional submarine cables, improving network redundancy, increasing the availability of high capacity and ensuring highly reliable communications.
“The Hong Kong cable will be helpful [for Guam] too, for customers that are trying to watch videos from China, from Japan, from South Korea and from Australia — the fastest route for them is to not to go through the U.S., but through Hong Kong,” says Robert Haulbrook, president and CEO of GTA.
The cable system is being built using capital from the Fund Corp. for the Overseas Development of Japan’s ICT and Postal Services Inc., along with syndicated loans from Japanese institutions including NEC Capital Solutions Ltd., among others, according to the release. HK-G will be the first project to be co-financed by the Japanese government–led Japan ICT Fund.
“Hong Kong is already an important interconnection point for undersea cables, and Guam is emerging as a key telecommunications hub. By extending HK-G to our SEA-U.S. cable investment in Guam, RTI Connectivity is facilitating a new diverse 100G trans-Pacific cable to better serve our customers’ traffic requirements between Asia, the United States and Australia,” said Russ Matulich, RTI Connectivity’s president and CEO.
Palau, Yap, Chuuk to get first cables
Construction work started on three submarine cable links to connect Palau, Yap and Chuuk digitally for the first time to the rest of the world.
During a May 4 ceremonial signing in Guam, Belau Submarine Cable Corp. signed a supply contract with NEC to construct a spur from the SEA-U.S. cable to Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia signed a supply contract with NEC to construct a spur to Yap and signed an additional agreement for the extension from Pohnpei to Chuuk.
Belau Submarine is backed by a loan from the Asian Development Bank, while the FSM is backed by a grant from World Bank.
Chuuk’s cable connection will be extended from Pohnpei, which has a spur connection to the HANTRU-1 cable system, which connects Kwajalein and Majuro of the Marshall Islands with Guam.
All three routes feature transmission speeds of 100 gigabits per second per channel. The speed is expected to be more than 1,000 times the current capacity available in Palau, which has been relying solely on satellite connections.
The cable was expected to arrive in Koror in May, according to the information provided by BSCC, and transported by barge to a newly constructed landing site.
“Palau has seen the need for a submarine cable for many years, recognizing the many national and economic benefits such facilities bring,” says George Rechucher, chairman of the board for Belau Submarine, in a release from NEC. “However, the scope for a cost-effective connection for Palau was limited until the SEA-U.S. cable was contracted, SEA-U.S. being a major submarine cable express route passing close to the shores of Palau. With the unique opportunity provided by the SEA-U.S. cable, cooperation with our customers, the Palau ICT service providers and funding support from ADB, Palau will now be able to secure abundant capacity to the world and enable broadband internet access in Palau with better quality and at reduced prices.”
Palau President Thomas E. Remengesau Jr. was in Guam to witness the commemoration ceremony. He says the possibility of what the fiber optic can do is endless.
“Already I am very excited — not so much for myself, but for my children and the future generation,” Remengesau says.
He adds, “I am delighted to see this milestone marked today. The submarine fiber network will be critical to so many aspects of our life in Palau from health care to education, from social networking to business. With the BSCC network expected to be in service before the end of the year, Palau is on the move.”
The FSM has adopted a national policy to connect all four FSM states — Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae — with fiber optic cable systems, according to Lukner B. Weilbacher, secretary of the FSM’s Department of Transportation, Communication and Infrastructure.
The HANTRU-1 cable system landed in Pohnpei in 2009.
“By the completion of this project, service providers in the FSM will be able to offer broadband connectivity to virtually the entire population of the FSM at competitive prices. The impact of this project cannot be underestimated, as it will provide the core infrastructure and services that will be a foundation for future development,” Weilbacher says in a release.
Marshall’s cable undergoes repairs
After experiencing an unprecedented internet outage for more than three weeks in the December–January period, the Marshall Islands’ submarine cable is not only back in action, the National Telecommunications Authority is now offering 4G mobile services for the first time.
After a problem was identified on the undersea fiber optic communications cable in 2016, a decision was made to begin repair work on Dec. 28, which was initially scheduled to last for about nine days. The repair work, however, took significantly longer, plunging this central Pacific nation into a virtual internet blackout for several weeks as satellite links could not keep up with the greatly expanded bandwidth demand of the country since the cable was installed in 2009.
The cable repair centered on the submarine cable at a location about 10 miles west of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which hosts the Reagan Missile Test Site facility. The cable links Majuro, Ebeye, the Army base at Kwajalein and Pohnpei to Guam.
These were the first repairs made since the initial installation and after completion in late January, there have been no further issues with internet access for the country.
The latest telecommunications expansion in the Marshall Islands has come about as a result of a partnership between Blue Arcus and NTA to open 4G mobile phone services. The service was in trial phase for Majuro and Ebeye in April and recently launched for the public.
Initially, several data packages were offered for personal and business use, with Blue Arcus representatives saying they expected to begin offering a new series of plans in June to expand 4G usage.
Infrastructure poised for more cable connections in future
More cables are in discussion for down the road, Certeza says, and the latest infrastructure is built to accommodate for that growth.
“We overbuilt on our ducts, so now we’ve got four to six complete. One of them is one of our friends at Docomo — they’re landing in that duct,” Certeza says.
Atisa lands in one of GTA’s ducts but not at the same landing station.
“There’s a lot of discussion for more cables to come to Guam. That’s why we built for additional landing space for cables and we have the ability to land multiple cables into Guam,” Certeza says. ν
— Jackie Hanson, Joy White, Bernadette H. Carreon and Giff Johnson contributed to this story.
A cable-laying ship off of Tepungan Reef Flat in Piti prepares to deliver the Southeast Asia–U.S. submarine cable to its Guam landing point on April 24. The cable spans the Pacific from California to Indonesia, connecting in Guam. It will also be the source cable from which Palau and Yap will get their first cables.
Photo by Caitlin Workman
What else is new in telecom?
PDS expands facilities into Maite
MAITE, Guam — Pacific Data Systems Inc. purchased part of a building in Maite, owned by a limited liability company of which PDS now is a member, and moved its administrative operations in April.
The around 6,000-square-foot first floor of the former government of Guam Employee’s Federal Credit Union building will become PDS’s primary operational center. The move will consolidate the company’s operations and create a backup location for network operations.
The warehouse and construction divisions are expected to move to the new facility by the end of July, says John Day, president and chief operating officer of Pacific Data Systems. The backup network operations will stay in the Harmon Business Center, where PDS has been since 2002.
Although PDS has equipment installed in 17 of the 19 central offices operated by GTA, the company hopes to increase redundancy for risk aversion. The next step would be putting redundant equipment in the Maite office and connecting the office to its network with fiber optic cables.
“We will have limited backup capability by the end of year and full redundancy by the end of next year,” Day says.
GTA progresses in purchase by Forager
MANGILAO, Guam — Teleguam Holdings and Forager Holdings Corp. filed on April 18 a joint application for approval by the Public Utilities Commission for the transfer and ownership of Teleguam Holdings to Forager.
Teleguam Holdings, which does business as GTA, had previously been a wholly owned subsidiary of AP TeleGuam Holdings, a Delaware-based holding company, which was approximately 92% held by private investment funds AP Cayman Partners II L.P., Advantage Partners IV, ILP and Japan Ireland Investment Partners.
If the sale is approved, Forager Holdings will purchase all the ownership interest as the “AP Funds” in AP Holdings LLC, which currently owns 100%.
Two entities will form Forager Holdings: B88 Financial Group LLC and Marianas Holdings LLC. B88 Financial Group, owned by Benjamin Wu, is expected to hold less than 10% of the total equity of Forager. A majority of the non-voting equity interests in Forager will be owned by Marianas Holdings LLC, 20% of which is owned by Huntsman Family Investments and 80% of which is owned by The Huntsman Foundation of Utah.
Huntsman Corp. is a global business with most of its $10 billion outside of the United States, to include $ 3 billion in China.
PDS expands wireless service, network capacity
MAITE, Guam — Pacific Data Systems acquired the operations of WISP Guam Inc., a wireless internet service provider, in July 2016. Former owner David Sykes joined PDS as a project manager on wireless projects and integration of WISP customers onto the PDS network.
Although the company had provided some wireless service prior to the acquisition, PDS had mainly focused on fiber optics and copper, says John Day, president and chief operating officer of PDS.
In addition, in fall of 2016, PDS signed an agreement to take over the local network and operations for Orange Business Services, an international data carrier that has operated in Guam for more than 20 years. PDS has migrated Orange customers to the PDS network.
As a result of additional requirements, PDS quadrupled the amount of network capacity between Guam and Hawaii and between Guam and Los Angeles. The company also established a new network point-of-presence in Hong Kong to better support its customers with data traffic and circuit requirements to Asia, including to Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
By the time the HK-G cable is in operation, Day says he hopes PDS will have additional requirements to be able to buy capacity on it.
IT&E and Docomo open new stores in Saipan
TAMUNING, Guam — IT&E CNMI unveiled its Kagman retail space on April 3. The 1,800-square-foot retail store is the third location on Saipan.
Store hours are the same as the Chalan Laulau and Garapan locations, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
IT&E transferred several employees who live in Kagman to the new location and hired seven additional employees.
Docomo Pacific also opened a new store in Saipan on April 6 in the Joeten Commercial Building in Susupe. The 1,800-square-foot retail space is the newest Docomo addition in Saipan in more than 10 years.
The new store added 20 employees to Docomo Pacific and is the first in-line store in Saipan with the new retail additions including the top 10 display, customer service bays, accessory panel display and the in-store charging station.
The Susupe store is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and closed on Sunday. The Gualo Rai location temporarily closed from April 15 for renovations, due to be complete in early summer.
Docomo, IT&E CNMI launch quad-play bundles
TAMUNING, Guam — Docomo Pacific introduced its quad-play service, “One,” which includes the television entertainment system, TiVo, on April 20. The company introduced faster online speeds with the fastest speed from 75 Mbps to 100 Mbps.
IT&E CNMI launched home-internet bundles in April with home phone, internet, modem and a Roku stick starting from $80 a month.
“We had dealt with them separately, but we bundled it to make it more cost-effective,” says James Oehlerking, CEO of IT&E.
IT&E’s bundle service is not available on Guam.
iConnect launches ad-supported mobile plan
TAMUNING, Guam — iConnect launched Value Mobile, an ad-supported low-priced unlimited mobile plan in February.
Starting at $24.99 a month, subscribers get a free Samsung phone with no contract; unlimited data, talk and text on island; unlimited text to the U.S. and the Philippines; and 1,000 minutes of calls to the U.S. Other plans at $34.99 and $44.99 are also available, to include more minutes of calls to the U.S. and the Philippines.
Value Mobile is the first ad-supported mobile plan on Guam. Subscribers will see local ads on the home screen of their phones, much like ads seen on platforms such as Facebook or YouTube. The ads subsidize the cost of the mobile plan to allow the lower rates.
GTA to introduce mobile security
TAMUNING, Guam — GTA is working this year to implement user identification registration, “which means we’ll be able to block the usage of stolen phones,” says Robert Haulbrook, president and CEO of GTA.
The Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association maintains the International Mobile Equipment Identity Database, a global central database containing basic information on the serial number ranges of millions of mobile devices in use across the world’s mobile networks.
GSMA Device Check provides up to 10 years of a device’s history as well as the device model information and capabilities. Service providers can use the device’s IMEI number to blacklist the phone. Once blacklisted, the phone will be disabled on the service provider’s network and possibly other networks, depending on services offered by the service provider.
“Today it’s very easy to steal somebody’s phone and sell it. Until this new service is activated, we won’t have the ability to log into the worldwide blacklist. When we’re finished with this, we anticipate stolen phones to not be usable, not only in Guam but also worldwide,” Haulbrook says.
Once implemented, the registration will be automatic for all customers.
IT&E to launch IMS Wi-Fi calling
TAMUNING, Guam — IT&E plans to launch IP Multimedia Subsystem Wi-Fi calling in 2018.
“Right now, you can make calls on Skype or WhatsApp. You can make those types of calls or you make regular cellular calls. The new technology will mix all that in together so you won’t even know. You can go home and make calls through Wi-Fi with your cellular number,” says James Oehlerking, CEO of IT&E.
Similar to Voice Over LTE, Wi-Fi calling relies on an IMS network to deliver the voice services and other communication services like video calling. Operators are able to launch these services into buildings using Wi-Fi when LTE coverage is poor.
Wi-Fi calling will also be useful when customers are roaming outside of the IT&E network, Oehlerking says.
“You can also roam and make calls with the same number, and it helps keep the roaming costs down,” he says. ν
Docomo Pacific hosted a landing ceremony for Atisa, its submarine fiber optic cable system connecting Guam to the Northern Mariana Islands, on May 11 at Aquarius Beach, Saipan.
Photo courtesy of Docomo Pacific
GTA invests to improve services end-to-end
TAMUNING, Guam — GTA plans to spend $17 million or more this year in capital improvements to improve speed and performance for customers on Guam, including to its streaming of content from the U.S., its availability of fiber optic service around the island, and to its broadband performance in homes.
1) Peering and upstreaming
GTA is working on reducing latency in retrieving data from content owners. This requires housing content, such as Netflix or YouTube videos, on island in GTA’s Content Delivery Network.
“Anytime someone watches a video, we have to go get it — we have to find it, we bring it back and we put it in the server. When the next person watches it, it’s already housed here so we don’t have to go all the way back to the U.S. and it’s much faster,” says Robert Haulbrook, president and CEO of GTA.
Roughly 59% of GTA’s traffic is retrieved from GTA’s Guam data center. Most of the streaming traffic that is pulled from the U.S. comes through Los Angeles and some through Seattle, Haulbrook says.
Not only does the CDN benefit customers, it benefits content providers as well.
“It’s in their interest also to get it closer to the eyeballs because they want people to have a better experience,” Certeza says. “Both Google and Netflix, they really work with the providers to get the content closer to the consumers.”
2) Fiber to the Neighborhood
GTA’s Fiber to the Neighborhood project to expand its high-speed fiber optic network to deliver speeds of up to 50 Mbps is about 60% complete. It is in the process of upgrading Central Guam to include Jonestown. The project started in the northern villages of Yigo and Dededo in 2015 and is scheduled to cover 75% of the island by the end of 2017 and 90% by the end of 2018.
3) Broadband at home
GTA is also working on upgrading Wi-Fi modems to improve performance within homes.
“If you connect your computer to your modem — which is what you did in the old days — you’re going to get a good experience. In the old days, when you used Wi-Fi — when not everyone had Wi-Fi — you had a pretty good experience. What we’re now finding is that there’s a lot of congestion in the Wi-Fi networks, particularly in the older 2.4 GHz band,” Haulbrook says.
Although the 2.4 GHz reaches further distances, the Wi-Fi does not perform as well because it causes more congestion in higher density neighborhoods. GTA is providing modems with two radios — one at 2.4 GHz and one at 5 GHz — for less congestion and better performance on the wider band.
GTA provides its customers with modems not only as a service to customers but because when there are issues the company can troubleshoot more easily.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Feb. 28 in Palau for the fiber optic cable landing station. Palau will receive service from a spur off the SEA-U.S. cable between Guam and the Philippines.
Photo courtesy of the Office of the President of Palau