The Spooky Future for Aging Cables

Internet Network

By Alan MauldinOct 31, 2018


Halloween—a time when boundaries between the living and the dead are blurred. It's a season for ghost stories and superstitions—black cats and voodoo dolls. 

It seemed appropriate to use the spookiest day of the year to look at a few frightful scenarios for some of the world’s aging submarine cables.

As older cables’ economic lives draw to a close, the transition from life to death could take many scary forms.

Zombie Cables

Many older cables may soon transition from active systems into zombie cables. Zombie cables would experience on end of their commercial life.

In this scenario a cable would remain operational, but would not be actively selling capacity or engaging in additional upgrades.

Dismembered Cables

In a fate worse than death, some older cables may see only specific spans or branches decommissioned.

A partial retirement allows an operator to reduce their maintenance costs but retain operation on more lucrative spans. There are several examples of dismembered cables still in service including Americas-I-North, CANTAT-3, and Columbus-II-b.

Death Row Cables

Before an aging cable meets its fate, the cancellation of a marine maintenance contract could take place. Such a move would be the equivalent of signing a “Do Not Resuscitate” order.

A “soft” decommissioning would then occur where the cable remains in service until the next fault. Once a fault occur, the cable would not be repaired.

Dead and Un-Buried Cables

Eventually every old cable will be dead (decommissioned).

Ironically, dead cables aren’t usually buried (since that happens when they are deployed), but they may be unburied and recovered.

Frankenstein Cables

While some recovered cables may be recycled, others may be re-positioned along new routes. This Dr. Frankenstein-esque approach allow operators to breathe life into previously deceased cables.

Some examples of Frankenstein cables include the Gemini Bermuda cable (previously part of the Gemini trans-Atlantic cable) and the American Samoa-Hawaii cable (previously part of the PacRim East cable).

Not every cable is doomed to pass through each of these phases in the march to the cable graveyard. Each cable’s lifespan and path to the other side will vary.

For more information on the prospects for cable retirement and the factors influencing a cable’s economic lifespan, please refer to my presentation that looks at the potential for a mass extinction of cables.


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Alan Mauldin

Alan Mauldin

Alan Mauldin is a Research Director at TeleGeography. He manages the company’s infrastructure research group, focusing primarily on submarine cables, terrestrial networks, international Internet infrastructure, and bandwidth demand modeling. He also advises clients with due diligence analysis, feasibility studies, and business plan development for projects around the world. Alan speaks frequently about the global network industry at a wide range of conferences, including PTC, Submarine Networks World, and SubOptic.

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