Hibernia, TE SubCom faced environmental challenges when building submarine cable system

TE SubCom, an undersea communications technology provider, had to overcome a number of environmental challenges when helping Hibernia Networks achieve its low latency capabilities on its Hibernia Express submarine cable system. 

Hibernia Express is a 4,600 km cable that provides a low latency fiber path between New York and London, connecting Halifax, Nova Scotia and Brean, U.K., with terrestrial fiber to extend connectivity to major metro areas.  

What made the installation process a challenge for TE SubCom is that Hibernia Express uses non-traditional seabed locations that have varying terrain than what are found on traditional transatlantic routes.

In order to overcome the risks associated with these routes, TE SubCom took an aggressive installation and burial approach. This approach included detailed planning, selecting the optimum seasonal window of operation for the region, utilizing appropriate vessels and subsea tools coupled with a robust cable design. 

"Installing a low latency undersea network does not necessarily traverse the safest route increasing the need for cable protection," said Dave Blau, managing director of marine construction at TE SubCom, in an interview with FierceInstaller. "You have to collaboratively work with the customer to assess the route, meet the customer's latency requirements and select the proper installation and burial tools to effectively install the cable system. With this particular project we had to install and bury through some of toughest seabed to meet latency requirements while maintaining the integrity the network to ensure proper cable protection."

To complete this route for Hibernia, TE SubCom used three Reliance class vessels, each of which were equipped with heavy, three-meter capable sea plows and dedicated ROVs to bury over 50 percent of the route length over what it said was some of the most challenging terrain in the Atlantic.

But installing the cable properly is only one part of the process.

The other part is ensuring that it can withstand a host of environmental and even man-made issues that could potentially damage the new cable present on this route. This meant that it had to bury the cable in certain areas.

"When you install through such challenging seabed, you have to ensure you are achieving as best of burial as you can to provide the best protection of the cable with the goal of minimizing network interruption," said Blau. "To minimize risk to the cable from external aggression, such as fishing, anchoring or other potential risks that can impact a cable's operation, we undertook a rigorous burial program to provide the best cable protection possible."  

However, in conducting its route assessment and feasibility studies, there are areas where the cable could be buried and others where it would be laid on top of the sea floor. All of these issues are dictated by the nature of the cable route to achieve the lowest latency possible.  

While a seabed plow is a standard tool in the submarine cable installation industry, there are different levels of burial that can be achieved based on seabed conditions. Using SubCom vessels and burial tools coupled with its team of burial experts, SubCom was able to achieve burial in areas where it is typically not achieved. 

"There are many reasons you would traditionally surface lay a cable in lieu of deploying a plow to bury," Blau said. "But for this particular cable, because of the low latency route and the associated external risks,  SubCom employed one of the most aggressive burial programs we have executed to date."

In addition to finding the best build out method, TE SubCom had to ensure that in laying the cable it would not disrupt existing area submarine cables, fishermen, or oil and gas assets. To ensure other area entities aren't affected by the new cable, the provider had to coordinate across a number of different teams that handle engineering, surveying, the burial tools and the cable vessel.

Besides dealing with the seabed conditions, weather is also an issue. This past winter was fraught with a number of issues, including abnormal conditions in the U.K. and slower ice melting in Canada.

"We had some pretty anomalous weather this year with respect to storms in the Atlantic on the U.K. side. The ice flow coming out of Canada provided a challenge for the vessel to manage a safe cable installation while ensuring the safety of all on board," Blau said. "We had scout planes fly over  to provide real time ice flow information to the Captain as an added measure of protection as the Captains main priority is the safety of all on board. In doing so there is a year's worth of pre-planning and engineering  to ensure a safe and timely cable installation while maintaining the customer's latency requirements."

For more:
- see the release

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This article was updated on Oct. 15 with additional information from TE SubCom.