Google plans new undersea “Unity” cable across Pacific

Posted on: Thursday, 20th September 2007

Google is planning a multi-terabit undersea communications cable across the Pacific Ocean for launch in 2009, Communications Day has learned.

The Unity cable has been under development for several months, with a group of carriers and Google meeting for high-level talks on the plan in Sydney last week.

Google would not strictly confirm or deny the existence of the Unity plan today, with spokesman Barry Schnitt telling our North American correspondent Patrick Neighly that "Additional infrastructure for the Internet is good for users and there are a number of proposals to add a Pacific submarine cable. We're not commenting on any of these plans."

However, Communications Day understands that Unity would see Google join with other carriers to build a new multi-terabit cable. Google would get access to a fibre pair at build cost handing it a tremendous cost advantage over rivals such as MSN and Yahoo, and also potentially enabling it to peer with Asia ISPs behind their international gateways - considerably improving the affordability of Internet services across Asia Pacific.

Communications Day cannot confirm the identity of the other carriers working with Google, although we have learned that both Asia Netcom and Telstra have discussed the concept with the California-based search and online advertising giant. One source suggested that the main player behind the planned Asia America Gateway cable - Telekom Malaysia - has not been invited to participate in talks. The same source speculated that at least half a dozen companies are party to the plans.

The exact route for the cable is not yet finally determined although there are plans for a configuration using two separate routes to provide network diversity. It would potentially also be able to service Australia via interconnect to new and existing cables in Guam and Hawaii.

The Unity name was first revealed in public in early September when Level 3 executive Mike Saunders listed it as one of several new cables planned across the Pacific in a Singapore conference presentation. Saunders' presentation warned of the potential for the new cables to create a new trans-Pacific capacity bubble, although he did not link Unity to Google. His presentation said Unity was planned for a service launch in 2009.

Google also hinted at its ambitions in job advertisements earlier this year. In one for a submarine cable negotiator, it specified a job description that said in part "These negotiators will work closely with vendors to identify highly cost-effective solutions under the most favorable commercial and technical terms possible. They will also be involved in new projects or investments in cable systems that Google may contemplate to extend or grow its backbone."

Google's infrastructure ambitions are no secret. The company has committed substantial expenditure on dark fibre and a network of data centres across the United States, and also recently indicated its interest in bidding for new 700MHz spectrum allocations there.

Communications Day reported on 8 February that Google had begun peering with ISPs, enabling them to reduce their reliance on transit services via Tier 1 non-peering major IP networks such as Level 3 and AT&T.

Asked to comment on its hire of submarine cable specialists, Google told Communications Day "It should come as no surprise that Google is looking for qualified people to help secure additional network capacity. In some parts of the world, these people will work with submarine cables because there is a lot of ocean out there."

Another source said that Google's move could be disruptive to the capacity industry as it takes a major source of traffic - and revenue - out of the general market place.

by Grahame Lynch 

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