Facebook, Microsoft to build 160 Tbps, 4,100 km submarine cable

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) have hatched plans to build their own submarine cable network that will bypass congested network routes.

Set to go live next year, the 4,100 km cable which is dubbed MAREA, is being built in partnership with Telefonica. Construction of the cable will begin August 2016 and is expected to be completed in October 2017.

When it becomes operational, the MAREA cable will consist of eight fiber pairs and an initial estimated design capacity of 160 Tbps.

Operated and managed by Telxius, Telefónica's new telecommunications infrastructure company, the MAREA cable will also be the first to connect the United States to southern Europe, from the data hub of Northern Virginia to Bilbao, Spain and then to network hubs in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Telxius will sell capacity as part of their wholesale infrastructure business.

What will set apart this cable from others is its route. The route is being built south of other transatlantic cable systems, thereby helping ensure more resilient and reliable connections for customers in the United States, Europe, and beyond.

"By building the cable along this new southern route, we will also increase the resiliency of our global network, helping ensure even greater reliability for our customers," said Christian Belady, General Manager for datacenter strategy, planning and development for Microsoft, in a statement.

Another differentiator about MAREA is the approach.

Leveraging an open design, Microsoft and Facebook designed MAREA to be interoperable with a variety of network equipment. The companies claim this design brings a number of benefits for customers: lower costs and easier equipment upgrades which leads to faster growth in bandwidth rates since the system can evolve at the pace of optical technology innovation.

"By creating a vendor-agnostic design with Microsoft and Telxius, we can choose the hardware and software that best serves the system and ultimately increase the pace of innovation," said Najam Ahmad, VP of network engineering at Facebook, in a statement. "We want to do more of these projects in this manner -- allowing us to move fast with more collaboration. We think this is how most subsea cable systems will be built in the future."

While this is the latest set of non-traditional players to make an investment in a new submarine cable it's hardly the first.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) completed a 6,200 mile network across the Pacific Ocean in 2010 and it's currently completing another trans-Pacific cable and an Atlantic line from the U.S. to Brazil.

Microsoft has become skilled in the trans-Atlantic submarine cable space, having previously participated in two other projects. The software provider led the U.S. investment in the New Cross Pacific Cable to China. Not be outdone is Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), which recently announced its investment in the Hawaiki cable from Oregon and Hawaii to Australia and New Zealand.

As consumers vie for more bandwidth hungry video content, the pace of new submarine cable builds has ramped in recent years. According to a recent FCC report, submarine cable capacity grew 36 percent a year between 2007 and 2014. The FCC expects submarine cable capacity to grow around 29 percent between 2014 and 2016.

For more:
- Gizmodo has this article
- WSJ has this article
- see this release

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