HKA cable targets same subsea route as PLCN, Telstra backs both

submarine cable
Image credit: ArliftAtoz2205 /

The Hong Kong-Americas (HKA) consortium has announced plans to build a new subsea cable connecting Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

The HKA consortium – whose major backers include China Telecom, China Unicom, Facebook, Tata Communications, and Telstra – has signed a turnkey contract with Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) to deploy the system.

ASN said it will install its submarine WSS ROADM units, the latest generation of repeaters, enabling over 80 Tbps transmission capacity.

ASN also said its solution is also compatible with future generations of submarine line terminal equipment supporting ‘probabilistic shaping’ [PDF], a modulation technology being developed by Nokia Bell Labs that uses ‘shaped’ QAM formats to flexibly adjust transmission capacity of a given fiber-optic link. Nokia Bell Labs conducted a transatlantic field trial of the technology with Facebook in March 2017, claiming the trial yielded a spectral efficiency of 7.46 b/s/Hz and increased the stated capacity of the system by almost 2.5 times.

The HKA consortium says the new 13,000-km cable will feature six fiber pairs, and is designed to allow for additional connectivity options later. The system is expected to be completed sometime in 2020.

Telstra backs PLCN

In related news, Telstra announced not only its participation in the HKA System, but also that it is joining the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), another subsea cable system that will also connect Hong Kong and the US.

Telstra said it is investing a total of around A$100 million for 6 Tbps of capacity on both cable systems.

David Burns, Telstra’s Group managing director of Global Services and International, said HKA and PLCN will added needed capacity and lower latency on the Hong Kong to US route, “one of the fastest growing routes in the world for capacity demand”. Telstra currently runs most of its HK-US traffic on the Asia-America Gateway (AAG), which connects South East Asia to the US west coast via Hong Kong, Guam and Hawaii

Burns added HKA and PLCN will boost resiliency by providing two direct, alternative paths to the AAG.

The PLCN system has been in the works since late 2015. The planned 12,800 km system was spearheaded by Hong Kong-based start-up PLDC (Pacific Light Data Communication Co. Ltd), a subsidiary of China Soft Power Technology Holding Limited (CSPT). In October 2016, Google and Facebook joined PLDC to co-build the network.

At the time, the system was expected to be completed by the middle of this year. The PLDC website currently says the PLCN will be ready for service in Q4 2018.

EDITED TO ADD [15:45]: We asked David Burns by email why Telstra was investing in both cables on the same route and why it was coming in late to PLCN. His response, which arrived after post time, is as follows:

“We have taken a holistic view of capacity demand within the Asia Pacific region to determine our network investment strategy. This strategy is designed to meet the increasing capacity needs of our customers and provide greater diversity and resiliency across key routes. As part of this, we are taking two different approaches to the Hong Kong to US route – we are part of the consortium to build the HKA cable, while we are purchasing capacity on PLCN. Investing in both cables at the same time was the best way of providing certainty that we had capacity on both and also gives us the optimal long term resilience and diversity.”

The story has also been updated to reflect how much money Telstra is investing in both systems and how much capacity it is getting from HKA.

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