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Bill Bennett


Hawaiki deal revives trans-Pacific cable excitement

Hawaiki Cable resurfaced today announcing a deal to land its US$350 million trans-Pacific cable in the Whangarei area.

The company first came to light a year ago at the Pacific Leaders Forum in the Cook Islands. It is the brainchild of a group of telecom executives including CEO Rémi Galasso — a former Alcatel Lucent executive and country manager.

Hawaiki aims to build a new cable from Australia to Hawaii via New Zealand with branches to Pacific island nations. The plan combines elements of the failed Pacific Fibre and and SPIN cable projects. Many of the executives, including Galasso, were involved in SPIN.

Australia, NZ to the USA

Like Pacific Fibre, Hawaiki’s goal is to connect Australia and New Zealand to the USA. From SPIN it picks up the idea of running spurs to New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa among other island destinations. There’s also a provision to reach the Cook Islands.

Instead of following Pacific Fibre’s plan of linking directly to the West Coast, Hawaiki will reach US territory in Hawaii. From there it will join other trans-Pacific networks.

Unlike Pacific Fibre and SPIN, Hawaiki has kept a low profile. There are few specifics about the way it will be funded and no mention of government involvement or participation from Chinese partners. These were all issues that, ultimately, sank Pacific Fibre and SPIN.

Branches to islands

While Pacific Fibre’s design meant a single step from New Zealand the West Coast of the USA, Hawaiki plans to use optical add-drop multiplexer branching units or OADM BU’s. These make it possible to add links from the main cable to destinations – this means it won’t need to route the entire cable through each drop-off point.

One advantage of OADM BU technology is that the company can get on with building the main cable, then install the branches to island destinations at a later date. It also makes it easier for less developed nations to finance their involvement in the project.

On the downside, this approach makes for a slower cable than Pacific Fibre’s plan. A longer path and more stages means greater latency.

In a press statement Galasso says the system, which has a design life of 25 years, will be based on 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps) wavelength technology and deliver more than 20 Terabits per second (Tbps) of design capacity.

Hawaiki in two years?

The statement also said the network could be operating in as little as two years. That depends on Hawaiki’s ability to raise finance and sign potential customers. We’ve heard nothing about this to date, which could just mean the company is secretive, or it could mean there’s nothing to announce.

At the moment, the Southern Cross Cable Network is the main link between New Zealand and the rest of the work. It has two strands linking New Zealand to the USA and Australia.

A consortium of Telecom NZ, Vodafone and Telstra are also planning a trans-Tasman cable: the Tasman Global Access cable. This looks set to go ahead and will cost in the region of $70 million a fraction of Hawaiki’s $350 million, it has a lower risk profile and the three telcos behind the project mean guaranteed customers.

While there’s no immediate capacity shortage – only a fraction of the Southern Cross Cable Network potential is used – many experts and investors cite the lack of alternative routes as a risk for New Zealand. It is often mentioned as a reason why international data centres are not located here – a move which could make sense given the relative abundance of renewable energy sources. A fresh international link could change that.

Hawaiki and the regional economic development body Northland Inc expect landing a cable in the Whangarei area will also help boost the technology economy in Northern New Zealand.



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