South Pacific internet: How's it going to pan out?

With new undersea internet cables soon expected under the South Pacific, will China or the West set the agenda?

The northern Pacific is one of the world's major internet trunks, spanned by more than a dozen undersea cables with more on the way. South of the Equator it's a different story: even Australia has only recently acquired a resilient range of connections, and other nations - including many in Latin America - remain comparatively isolated. New cables and routes are set to appear in the near future: but will it be China or the West that sets the agenda?

As of last year, Australia might well have been considered to be one of the southern hemisphere's better nations for connection to the wider internet. It had four good undersea connections to the wider internet from the vicinity of Sydney on the east coast, and one from Perth on the west, plus various other cables mainly useful for local traffic. With Perth and Sydney linked by decent overland connectivity, Australians enjoyed good bandwidth and low latency no matter what part of the world network they might be communicating with. The world's major cloud giants were present: both Azure and Amazon Web Services had data centres in-country.

But submarine cable outages are routine, and any connection dependent on a single undersea line cannnot be considered reliable. This truth was proven yet again when the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable went out between Perth and Singapore last September. Data travelling between - for example - Britain and Australia now had to move via Guam or Hawaii. End users in Australia noticed the difference.

Fortunately for them, the new ASC (Australia Singapore Cable) line had already been laid along the Perth-Singapore route, and was in the final stages of testing before going operational. The ASC was rushed into service two weeks early, taking up the load. Now with two lines to the the west, Australia is more resilient: and when the new Indigo-West cable comes online on the same route later this year, the usual reliability minimum of three undersea connections will have been achieved out of Perth. Australia will then be properly connected up, by modern standards.

Connecting the Southern Cone

On the other side of the southern Pacific it's mostly a very different story. Brazil, the giant of South America, is adequately cabled up with no fewer than seven lines off its Atlantic coast and primary landing points at Fortaleza in the north and Rio and Santos Praia Grande in the south. (It's worth noting however that traffic for much of Brazil, having routed through Rio, then goes back under the sea to hop along the coast via the shorthaul single linkages of the "Brazilian Festoon". Many Brazilians could be badly affected by just one undersea outage.)

Coming further south, the eastern submarine cables come ashore at Las Toninas in northern Argentina, though in fact the fibres now run on overland right down to the southern tip of Argentina, crossing the Straits of Magellan with a short undersea hop.

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