India’s Underwater Cable Project

India’s Underwater Cable Project

India’s Underwater Cable Project

India’s Cable Projects and Future Expansion

  • India-Asia Xpress (IAX) and India-Europe Xpress (IEX): Reliance Jio is leading these projects, connecting India to Singapore, the Persian Gulf, and Europe. The capacity is around 200 Tbps, with funding from a consortium including Facebook and Google.
  • MIST: This cable will link Mumbai and Cochin in India to Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. It has a capacity of 218 Tbps and is scheduled for operation in 2024.
  • Blue-Raman: Connecting Italy, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and India, this cable bypasses the Egyptian chokepoint. It has a capacity of over 200 Tbps and is funded by a consortium led by Google.
  • SEA-ME-WE 6: Upgrading the link from Singapore to Marseille, this cable spans 19,200 km with a capacity of 126 Tbps. It is scheduled to be operational in 2025 and involves a consortium of telecommunications companies.
  • 2 Africa Pearl: Extending from India and Pakistan, this cable orbits Africa, connecting 33 nations across three continents. It has a capacity of 180 Tbps and is funded by a consortium that includes Facebook and China Mobile.

What are Undersea Cables?

  • Undersea cables, also known as submarine cables, are Fiber optic strands enclosed in protective layers laid on the ocean floor.
  • They are essential for global connectivity, transmitting data and communication signals between continents and nations.
  • These cables form the backbone of international communications infrastructure, ensuring reliable internet connectivity and supporting seamless communication worldwide.
  • They play a pivotal role in facilitating collaboration, trade, and socio-cultural interactions on a global scale.

How are the Submarine Cable Systems laid?

  • Submarine cable system-
    a. Cable Station at the ground contains the servers from/to which data is to be transmitted. All the armoured submarine cables are connected to the cable station.
    b. Cables that are laid at depths shallower than 1500m, are buried 60 cm under the sea bed to prevent them from damages such as anchoring of ships, mining and dredging.
    c. Cables at depth exceeding 1500m, are simply laid upon the seabed and not buried as there are fewer chances of accidental damages at such depths.
India’s Underwater Cable Project
  • Submarine cable management in India- Indian government provided the private players the opportunity to provide international telecommunication links in 2002. These private players are known as International Long Distance (ILD) providers. 
  • Currently, there are 16 operational submarine cable systems in India. Additional, 4 cable systems have been planned.

Key Recommendation by TRAI

Ownership Requirements for Undersea Cables:

  • Proof of Ownership: TRAI recommends that all Indian telecom companies operating undersea cables must demonstrate ownership of the portion of cables located in Indian waters.
  • Significance: This requirement ensures that Indian firms have a stake in undersea cable infrastructure and fosters their active participation in global connectivity.

Distinction between Cable Landing Stations and Points of Presence (PoPs):

  • Differentiation of Facilities: TRAI suggests distinguishing between cable landing stations and PoPs, which are further connected to the stations.
  • Regulatory Simplification: Owners of PoPs would be exempted from multiple clearance requirements but would need to comply with lawful interception regulations.
  • Significance: This differentiation streamlines the regulatory process for telecom companies and promotes ease of doing business.

Allowance for Dark Fiber and Stubs:

  • Dark Fiber Usage: TRAI recommends permitting the use of dark fiber (unused optical fiber) on existing cable landing stations.
  • Use of Stubs: TRAI suggests allowing the installation of stubs, short cables in Indian waters, for potential future expansion and use.
  • Significance: Allowing dark fiber usage and stub installations enhances the flexibility and scalability of undersea cable infrastructure in India.

Financial Viability Models for Repair Vessels

  • Commissioning Indian-Flagged Ships: TRAI proposes that a government committee explore financial viability models for commissioning Indian flagged ships for the repair and maintenance of undersea cables.
  • Significance: This promotes indigenous capabilities and supports the growth of the domestic maritime industry.

Domestic Traffic and Terrestrial Networks

  • Permission for Domestic Traffic: TRAI recommends explicitly permitting the carrying of domestic traffic on undersea cables, allowing for connectivity between domestic locations.
  • Extension through Terrestrial Networks: The regulator suggests enabling undersea cable systems to extend further inland through terrestrial networks to facilitate the flow of international traffic.
  • Significance: This improves efficiency and promotes seamless communication within India.

Vulnerabilities of India to damage Underwater Cable Systems

  •  Substantial Loss to Indian service sector- India’s service sector like the Business Processing Units are entirely dependent on Global connectivity for their operations. Any damage to submarine communications cable, leads to substantial losses.
    For ex- The severance of multiple undersea cables off the coast of Egypt and Dubai in 2008, led to loss of more than 80% of India’s international service.
  •  Threat to India’s Financial Stability- India’s banks use SWIFT system for international financial transfers and banking operations. This SWIFT system relies on undersea fibre-optic cables to transmit more than 15 million messages a day, valuing $10 trillion of financial transfers to 208 countries.
  •  Disruption of Social security schemes- Indian government’s social security schemes based on the JAM trinity is heavily dependent upon the modern internet. Any disruption of these undersea cables will cause major disruptions in the implementation of these schemes.
  •  Military and National Security- India’s national security is also dependent on underwater cable communications systems for real time communication.

What are the threats to these Cable Systems?

  •  Lack of route-diversity- The route of undersea cables from Red Sea to Mediterranean through mainland Egypt, is the world’s largest internet choke points. This route is susceptible to interdictions/interjections. For ex- Five interdictions to the cables in the Red Sea region would completely isolate India from Europe.
  •  Sabotage by Non-state actors- The non-state actors have been involved in intentional and targeted damage to undersea cables. For ex- Houthi rebels involvement in targeting submarine cables in the Red Sea region.
  •  Human activities like fishing and dredging- Fishing like bottom trawling and dredging operations cause damages to unarmoured submarine cable systems at the ocean bottom.
  • Offshore activities- Offshore activities like oil and gas development, the setting-up and maintenance of infrastructure for offshore wind energy and ocean-thermal plants, seabed mining operations also cause damage to submarine cable systems.
  • Natural disasters- Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, and subsea landslides, also pose significant threats to undersea cable networks.

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