the northwest passage

The Northwest Passage

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If ever an internet subsea cable could be said to have a life-changing impact, then that is surely an appropriate way to describe the new cable from Quintillion that brings much needed connectivity to the remote wilds of northern Alaska and Canada.

The people of this region are currently having to make do with extremely slow and costly connection to the internet which is having a marked effect on all areas of life from the economy, to education, healthcare and more. But it is not only the inhabitants of this region who are getting excited about the potential of this new cable.

This project also marks a first for laying cable in the ice-bound waters of the North-West Passage, making it of special interest to any other operator looking to operate in such locations. Further interest is spurred by the ambitions for this cable. Ultimately the plan is to extend it to connect Asia with Europe, offering not just route diversity but ultra-low latency.

Connecting to two global financial hubs (Tokyo with London), shaving even just a few milliseconds off the latency will be of special interest to the high-speed traders who ought to feel duty bound to subscribe. This of course will help enormously to support the economic foundations of the project. The cable is also turning a few heads given the financial backing from one of the world’s richest men, Leonard Blavatnik, whose commercial interests include plastics,oil and gas, fashion, telecom, tech and real estate, not to mention a modest foray into the music world with Warner Music Group.

The system, which is being laid by Alcatel Lucent, will consist of three fiber pairs capable of carrying 100 wavelengths, each of which can support 100 gigabits-per-second of data capacity. So far construction is almost completed on Phase 1, a 1200-mile route around the coastal waters off Alaska between Nome and Prudhoe Bay.

Planned phases for Quintillion Subsea Express Network. Image Source: Quintillion

Planned phases for Quintillion Subsea Express Network. Image Source: Quintillion

Additional branches have also already been laid, connecting up with the communities of Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Utqiagvik (Barrow). Also, a new terrestrial fiber between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay has been installed and is now in service. From Fairbanks, this fiber connects to existing networks reaching Anchorage, Alaska, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, thus providing fiber link between the Continental United States and the North American Arctic.

We asked Kristina Woolston, Vice President for External Relations at Quintillion, what kind of

Kristina Woolston, VP External Relations, Quintillion

Kristina Woolston, VP External Relations, Quintillion

challenges were cropping up for such a unique project as this. The prime challenge, she told us, was the limited window of opportunity in which cable could be laid, which, depending on weather, is round about 3 months per year. Other challenges include the need to bury much of the cable due to the churn action of icebergs that can scrape along the seabed during periods of melting and ice sheet-forming. No doubt by the time Quintillion come to Phase 3 of the project, wherein they must lay cable in the freezing waters between Alaska, through the channels and ice flows of northern Canada, and thence to London, they will have gained a wealth of valuable knowledge and experience to oversee the project. We look forward to hearing much more.


This article is part of a series of 15 interviews with leading cable project owners around the world, which we’ve compiled into the ebook “Submarine Networks Projects 2017”. Download a free copy of it here.

If you’d like to meet these cable owners and operators together with other leaders from the industry, you should join us at Submarine Networks World 2018, which takes place 24 – 26 September in Singapore. Firmly established as the must-attend annual meeting for industry players from all around the world, preparations are already underway for another year of inspiring ideas, extensive networking and lively debates, with a conference programme covering key industry issues ranging from New Demand Drivers to Marine Operations, as well as a brand new Innovation Zone featuring presentations on the latest R&D projects.

Keen to learn more? Get in touch with the team:

To sponsor: Bastiaan Heijden | +65 6322 2726
To speak: Yun Xuan (YX) Koh

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