Israel to Play Key Role in Giant Google Fiber Optic Cable Project

The Blue-Raman cable will run from Italy to India, but due to geopolitics it will be divided into two parts

Amitai Ziv
Amitai Ziv
Visitors pass by the Google log at at Viva Tech in Paris, France May 16, 2019.
Visitors pass by the Google log at at Viva Tech in Paris, France May 16, 2019. Credit: REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Amitai Ziv
Amitai Ziv

Israel will soon have a critical place on Google’s expanding global fiber optic network. The U.S. technology giant is planning a cable called Blue-Raman (the latter half named after the Indian Nobel Prize laureate Venkata Raman) that will run between India and Italy through Israel.

The Raman half of the cable will start in the Indian port city of Mumbai, run beneath the Indian Ocean and overland across an unnamed country, presumed to be Saudi Arabia, before ending at the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

The Blue portion of the cable will begin in the Italian port of Genoa, continue beneath the Mediterranean, cross through Israel and end in Aqaba where it will link up with the Raman cable.

At an estimated cost of $400 million, the Blue-Raman cable is expected to reach Israel in 2022. Telecom Italia’s Sparkle subsidiary is partnering with Google on the western portion while the Raman portion is being developed with Omani telecom company Omantel.

Israel is currently linked to the worldwide web by three undersea cables. One of the cables belongs to Israeli telecom company Bezeq. The second, older cable is operated by Telecom Italia’s MedNautilus, which handles most of Israel’s non-Bezeq web traffic. The third is controlled by Israeli company Tamares Telecom, which serves smaller internet companies and provides backup for the others.

Israel has enough fiber optic capacity on these cables; in fact, usage is in the single-digit percentages. Nevertheless, it will also benefit from Blue-Raman.

While the planned cable will handle traffic between Europe and Asia, industry sources said Israeli users could use it as well. Blue-Raman uses the most advanced technology and has exceptionally wide broadband. Meanwhile, Israeli contractors will be hired to build local infrastructure, including the landing station for the Mediterranean cable (whose location hasn’t yet been determined) and the overland cable to Aqaba. Each of these contracts is worth millions of dollars. The new cable is also expected to be critical to Israel in the future. The MedNautilus cable is 20 years old and will reach the end of its life in another decade. The other two cables are approaching their 10th year of use. Blue-Raman will be in service for 30 years once completed.

Blue-Raman is part of a bigger undertaking to provide a new Internet link for India and East Asia to the global network. The fact that the cable is split into two is not related to technology but to geopolitics, so as not to give the impression that the “Israeli” part of the cable is crossing through Saudi territory.

Another aim is to bypass Egypt. Today, the only cable connecting Europe and Asia runs across Egypt from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, avoiding the Suez Canal, whose shallowness would risk damage to the cable.

As detailed by the blog Open Cables: “Egypt is the biggest single-point-of-failure in the entire world. With 15 cables crossing Egypt and another six or so waiting to be signed, almost a third of the entire world’s population is dependent on Egypt for its Internet access.”

State-owned Telecom Egypt has built a cable called TE North and forces others to use it, the blog says.

“A cut on this cable alone would disrupt traffic in a dozen countries. And of course, it costs more to cross Egypt than to build a cable all the way from Singapore to Marseilles,” said Open Cables. Egypt charges $300 million to lay cable across its territory and used to charge more. “Google’s planning of the Blue-Raman cable is the biggest news in the submarine cable industry since the start of the industry three decades ago. Not only will this cable provide the ultimate route diversity by going through Israel, it will also decrease the cost of Asia to Europe traffic by at least 50%,” Open Cables says.

Google has not released any official information on Blue-Raman, and would not comment for this story, and neither would Telecom Italia. Google has shown its plans to global and local players in the industry. Recent years have seen a spurt of activity in the undersea-cable sector due to the big growth in internet usage, globalization that has linked businesses more closely to each other and the rise of cloud computing.

Underseas cables were traditionally owned and operated by telecommunications companies, but big tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Google have also entered the business to ensure there is enough capacity, and upgrade it as necessary.

Google is the biggest player, having launched undersea cable projects in 2010. One example, the Utility cable running between Japan and California via the Pacific Ocean, is part a joint venture with Indian, Japanese and other telecoms companies.

Three years later, it inaugurated another joint venture cable between Japan and Southeast Asia. In 2017, Google invested in a 10,500-kilometer cable linking Florida with Brazil. All told, the company is involved in 13 undersea cable projects.

Google does not break out its undersea cable operation in its financial reports, but it is believed to have invested $47 billion in 2016-18 in what it called “improving Google Cloud infrastructure.” That projected involved erecting 134 server farms and 14 fiber optic undersea cables.

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