Airtel backs new SEA-ME-WE 6, Maldives gov’t backs Jio’s IAX

sea-me-we 6 cable
Image credit: SEA-ME-WE 6 Consortium

Indian telecom operators Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio have revealed separate deals involving two subsea cable projects – the SEA-ME-WE 6 consortium and Jio’s IAX project – highlighting the importance of global subsea network capacity in their respective telecoms strategies.

The SEA-ME-WE 6 consortium announced on Monday that construction has begun on the 19,200-km subsea cable, which it says will offer one of the lowest latencies available between Southeast Asia, Middle East and Western Europe.

Airtel announced the same day that it has joined the consortium as a major investor. Airtel said that it is anchoring 20% of the overall investment in the cable system, which will go live in 2025.

SEA-ME-WE 6 will connect Singapore and France, and will be amongst the largest undersea cable systems globally. Airtel will land the SEA-ME-WE 6 cable system in India at new landing stations in Mumbai and Chennai.

Airtel said that it has acquired one fiber pair on the main SEA-ME-WE 6 system and will co-build four fiber pairs on the Singapore – Chennai – Mumbai legs.

Ajay Chitkara, director and CEO of Airtel Business, said in a statement that its undersea cable system investments – as well as its data center assets – are vital infrastructure for supporting 5G and the digital economy.

“Airtel has been ahead of the curve on this front and already operates the largest undersea cable network out of India in addition to the biggest network of data centers,” Chitkara said. “Our investment in SEA-ME-WE 6 is another step in our journey to future-proof our network and build large integrated capacities to enable India’s digital ecosystem,” Chitakara said.

Through SEA-ME-WE 6, Airtel will add another 100 Tbps capacity to its global network, which currently spans over 365,000 km and reaches 50 countries across five continents. 

Airtel will integrate the SEA-ME-WE 6 with its data centers in Mumbai and Chennai. The move will also strengthen India’s position as an emerging data center hub in the region, the telco said.

Other consortium members of SEA-ME-WE 6 include Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company, Dhiraagu (Maldives), Djibouti Telecom, Mobily (Saudi Arabia), Orange (France), Singtel (Singapore), Sri Lanka Telecom, Telecom Egypt, Telekom Malaysia, Telin (Indonesia).

Meanwhile, Reliance Jio said in a separate announcement that it will land the next-generation multi-terabit India-Asia-Xpress (IAX) undersea cable system in Hulhumalé, Maldives in partnership with government-owned company Ocean Connect Maldives (OCM), which will invest in the system.

Reliance Jio president Mathew Oommen said the IAX system will not only connect Hulhumalé directly with major internet hubs in India and Singapore, but also support the explosive growth in data demand expected from new initiatives being launched by the Maldives government. Jio is working with the government to provide capacity supporting Web3-capable internet services.

The IAX system originates in Mumbai in the west and connects directly to Singapore, with branches including additional landings in India, Malaysia, and Thailand. It complements Jio’s India-Europe-Xpress (IEX) system connecting Mumbai to Europe (via Savona, Italy), the Middle East and North Africa. IAX is expected to be ready for service by the end-2023, while IEX will be ready for service in mid-2024.

The two systems promise more than 200 Tbps of capacity at speeds of 100 Gbps over 16,000 kilometers.

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