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A cable ship installs high speed submarine cable linking Singapore to France earlier this year. Boris Horvat/AFP
A cable ship installs high speed submarine cable linking Singapore to France earlier this year. Boris Horvat/AFP

Telcotech leads race for undersea cable

Telcotech, a subsidiary of local internet provider Ezecom, announced yesterday that it is nearing completion of Cambodia’s first submarine fibre-optic cable, which it expects to be operational by early next year.

The Malaysia-Cambodia-Thailand (MCT) submarine cable system will connect the three countries directly and link in to the Asia-America Gateway (AAG), an existing 20,000-kilometre-long undersea data highway that connects the Far East to the United States.

Yves Schaeffer, CEO of Ezecom and Telcotech, said the landing stations had been built in the three countries and preparations were now underway to lay the cable on the seafloor.

The cable project is being carried out with Symphony Communication of Thailand and Telekom Malaysia, and is being built by Chinese submarine network provider Huawei Marine Networks.

“We signed onto a consortium with Malaysia and Thailand in May 2015 and the cable construction has been undertaken since then and is expected to be ready in the first quarter of 2017,” Schaeffer told reporters.

Landing stations for the 1,300-kilometre-long MTC cable system are located in Sihanoukville, Rayong in Thailand and Cherating in Malaysia.

This map shows the route of three submarine telecommunications cables under construction with landing sites in Cambodia.
This map shows the route of three submarine telecommunications cables under construction with landing sites in Cambodia. Daniel Nass

According to Schaeffer, the submarine cable and its related infrastructure will be completed at a cost of $70 million, providing a total capacity of 30 terabits per second (Tbps). The price, ownership and management of the cable will be split evenly between the three members of the consortium.

He said that the completion of the MCT cable will allow the Kingdom to benefit from faster internet and cheaper services. However, he pointed out that despite the cable’s high capacity, connectivity speeds for end users will depend on the technology used by downstream internet service providers (ISPs).

“Talking about speed is a little difficult for us because we are [only] providing the ICT cable capacity, we are not providing speed as such, so it will depend on the infrastructure of the people we will sell our capacity to in order to make sure the speed is there.”

Prakash Velaydudhan, chief technology officer for Ezecom, said the new capacity offered by the cable could be 20 to 30 times greater than what is currently available in Cambodia.

“Say you are travelling between Cambodia and Vietnam by road,” he said. “With this cable, we are building an airport to make the journey faster.”

Two rival groups have also announced plans for their own submarine cable connections to Cambodia, but neither is expected to complete their project ahead of Ezecom.

Marith Khin, country manager for NTT Communications Corp, a Japanese technology provider, confirmed that if Ezecom completes its cable by the announced date it would be the Kingdom’s first undersea connection.

NTT is working with partners from Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines to link Cambodia to the Asia Submarine-Cable Express (ASE), a fibre-optic undersea cable that runs from Singapore and Japan, with spur lines to Hong Kong and Manila. The total carrying capacity of the 7,800-kilometre-long undersea cable network is 15 Tbps.

The Cambodia Fiber Optic Cable Network (CFOCN) is developing a third fibre-optic cable connection for Cambodia as part of the nearly-completed Asia-Africa-Europe-1 (AAE-1) cable. The AAE-1 spans 25,000 kilometres from Southeast Asia to Europe and has over 40 Tbps capacity.

Steven Path, president of the Cambodian ICT Federation, said the chief benefits of an undersea cable connection for internet users in the Kingdom were more affordable and higher-quality services.

“The impact of this should be very significant as it creates more access points and more routes to the internet, so prices should come down,” he said.

He explained that submarine cables offer an alternative to the existing terrestrial links with countries such as Vietnam, which created dependence on a small number of internet sources and limited internet speeds.

“We’ve become way too dependent on one or two sources for our internet, but now the cable gives us a route that is hopefully a larger and more cost-effective pipeline,” Path said.

However, given the current competition faced by local internet providers, he feels that it is unlikely the launch of a new undersea connection would attract more foreign ISPs.

“We were thinking that the industry should be consolidating because there is a price war going on and whoever owns the backend of the infrastructure is going to survive, so I would be surprised if there were more ISP companies opening up to piggy-back off existing infrastructure,” he said.

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