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Remi Galasso’s dream to build the Hawaiki trans-Pacific cable became a reality earlier today.

Prime Minister John Key and Communications Minister Amy Adams joined other dignitaries to help Galasso get the project started at a soil turning ceremony hosted by local iwi at Bream Tail near Mangawhai Heads in Northland.

Speaking at the event Key says a whole bunch of New Zealanders don’t know this is happening. Yet, he says the cable: “Is far more important to the average New Zealander than they realise. We need more connectivity and that’s what Hawaiki is all about.”

No more single cable risk

Key said that for a long time New Zealand relied on a single cable network. He said it is an area where “you need to keep investing”. He told guests the Hawaiki cable would increase New Zealand’s telecommunications security and bring jobs and development to Northland.

Communications Minister Amy Adams expanded on that theme. She says there’s evidence that businesses cluster around cable landing points. Adams sees opportunities for data centres to set up in the Mangawhai Heads area.

When it starts operation in June 2018 the $500 million Hawaiki cable will be the second submarine cable linking New Zealand and Australia to Hawaii and the mainland United States.

Third submarine cable

By that time it will be New Zealand’s third submarine cable operator and the fourth international data link.

At present there is a single cable network connecting New Zealand to the rest of the world. The Southern Cross Cable Network has two strands, which means there’s a degree of redundancy. Yet relying on one company is a case of putting all our eggs in a single basket.

Early next year the Tasman Global Access cable will link New Zealand to the East Coast of Australia.

At this stage Hawaiki has a design capacity of 42 Tbps. This makes it the fattest pipe between Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Vital link

Submarine cables are rarely front-page news and considered unglamorous, but as the Prime Minister underlined, they are vital to the nation’s economy.

Malcolm Dick, who last year sold his share of CallPlus joined Sir Eion Edgar earlier this year to invest in Hawaiki which boasts all-New Zealand equity funding.

At the launch event Dick says all the time he was running a telecommunication business he worried about having a single cable provider. He says he wondered what would happen if that failed.

Partners

As well as equity investors Galasso managed to find a some key partners to help get the project off the ground. These include REANNZ, Vodafone and Amazon Web Services.

Reannz, the Research and Education Advanced Network, is a crown-owned high-performance computer network that services the needs of researchers and academics. Reannz was among the first customers to sign to Hawaiki and has a $65 million anchor tenancy contract.

Reannz chief executive Nicole Ferguson underlined the need for new capacity. While there is plenty of headroom for now, the demand for data is increasing at such a rate that the existing Pacific cable network could now reach its full capacity before the end of its commercial life. She says there is a need for a diversity of supply.

Amazon Web Services interest in Hawaiki is, in part, down to the rapid increase in its New Zealand cloud services business. AWS depends on international connectivity to connect customers to its data centres.

Hawaiki is not the first project aiming to add trans-Pacific submarine capacity. The Pacific Fibre project failed in 2012 because it could not raise enough money through financial institutions. It also ran into problems over US fears about its partnership with Huawei Marine.