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More connected than ever - new undersea cable lands

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 01 July 2021, 9:16 am

New Zealand's international connectivity is set to double in capacity with the arrival of Southern Cross Cable's new NEXT cable at Takapuna Beach in Auckland this week.

The US$300 million cable (SX NEXT), which now connects New Zealand with the west coast of the United States, will on completion next April also link Australia, Fiji and the tiny island nations of Tokelau and Kiribati. 

A cable laying vessel was working off Takapuna Beach this week to lay the fibre-optic cable. The Southern Cross Network will soon have 45,000 kilometres of cables snaking around the Pacific and Tasman sea.

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It will add an additional 72TB/s (terabits per second) of data capacity, supplementing the existing Southern Cross cable, which is set for decommission by 2030. To put that in perspective, the new cable has capacity that allows the equivalent of simultaneously streaming 4.5 million ultra-high definition videos. 

It sounds excessive, but we need it. New Zealand's bandwidth usage has been growing by 20 - 30 per cent in recent years and while local caching of video streaming services has saved bandwidth, many data-rich services are still delivered directly from offshore servers. 

Jolie Hodson, the chief executive of Spark, which is a founding shareholder in the two Southern Cross cables, said the rise of 5G and IoT (Internet of Things) services would also draw on the extra capacity.

While capacity increases are to be welcomed, the additional cable also helps the resilience of our international connections which, we need to remember, are vulnerable to earthquakes shifting the seafloor, sabotage and ships carelessly dragging their anchor across them. 

The best news about the new cable is the addition of spurs off the NEXT cable to Tokelau and Kiribati which will significantly improve the internet connectivity those island nations have. 

A Ministry for Foreign Affairs & Trade spokesperson told the New Zealand Herald that it had contributed $23.7 million in funding via the New Zealand Aid Programme to connect the three Tokelau atolls to the cable. The population of Tokelau is around 1,500. Presumably, similar support will enable Kiribati to be connected as well. 

There are plans for at least another cable as well, with rival cable operator Hawaiki planning a second connection that would support its proposed Datagrid venture to locate high-capacity data centres in Southland.


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