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Third undersea cable to plug Kingdom into data fast lane

A cable ship works on the installation of a high-speed submarine internet cable off the coast of Europe earlier this year. AFP
A cable ship works on the installation of a high-speed submarine internet cable off the coast of Europe earlier this year. AFP

Third undersea cable to plug Kingdom into data fast lane

The government has contracted the private sector to build a third submarine communications cable linking Cambodia to a major international telecommunications artery in a bid to significantly increase internet speed while helping to bring down prices.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MPT) signed a 25-year concession agreement with Cambodia Fiber Optic Cable Network (CFOCN) yesterday to build a landing station in Sihanoukville and lay an underwater fibre-optic cable that patches into the existing AAE-1 cable, one of the main high-speed data conduits linking Asian, African and European countries.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 and will involve an investment of $69 million.

CFOCN, a subsidiary of Singapore-based HyalRoute Communication Group, currently has 7,600 kilometres of fibre-optic cable in the Kingdom.

Kan Channmeta, secretary of state at the ministry, said Cambodia’s rapidly growing internet usage was putting heavy demands on the country’s existing infrastructure. He said the concession agreement, based on a build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) model, would enhance Cambodia’s connectivity with international networks and increase data transfer capabilities.

“Data users are increasing remarkably. So, if there is no strong infrastructure then data speeds will not answer to the needs of the people,” he said

Channmeta said that the government was building backbone infrastructure to address the needs of the information technology and communication sector in anticipation of close to 80 per cent of the population using the internet by 2020.

“We hope AAE-1 will contribute to this target,” he added. “The government will closely monitor the project to ensure that the company will adhere with its action plan to bring fast internet by 2018.”

A map shows the location of the new AAE-1 fibre-optic link.
A map shows the location of the new AAE-1 fibre-optic link. Daniel Nass

The concession agreement marks the third licence issued to construct a submarine telecommunication cable linked to a major submarine data highway.

In May 2015, Telcotech, a subsidiary of local internet provider Ezecom, signed an agreement with Thailand’s Symphony Communication and Malaysia’s Telekom Malaysia to build a 1,300-kilometre-long undersea cable linking Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia to the Asia-America Gateway (AAG), a 20,000-kilometre underwater cable that connects Asia to the US.

A rival project announced in June 2014 envisions laying a connection between Cambodia and the Asia Submarine Express (SEA), a 7,800-kilometre underwater cable that runs from Malaysia and Singapore to Japan, with several offshoots.

Local internet provider Chuan Wei Cambodia has partnered with a consortium that includes NTT Communications Corp of Japan, the Philippine’s PLDT, Singapore’s StarHub Ltd and Malaysia’s Telekom Malaysia to build the link.

Neither company has commenced construction activities on their respective cables, though both have targeted the end of 2016 for completion.

Joseph Chan, chairman of AAE-1’s management committee, said the new agreement with CFOCN would connect Cambodia to the 25,000-kilometre AAE-1 cable, which has a data transmission capacity of 100 gigabytes per second – putting it among the world’s fastest fibre-optic connections.

“The cable coupled with the One Belt, One Road initiative from China, will accelerate economic growth over the next decade pushing up economies in Asia, the Middle East and Africa,” he said.

Marith Khin, country manager at NTT Communications, which has an agreement with Chuan Wei Cambodia to link into the SEA cable, said he welcomed the announcement of a third underwater cable.

Given the current internet consumption, Khin said that the enormous investments being made to build undersea cables may look excessive, but they would reap dividends as data usage increases in the future.

“I think the market in Cambodia is not big right now, but if the economy continues to grow and online traffic increases, I think three carriers will not be a problem for Cambodia’s market.”

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