Canadian fibre builder developing international dream

They called it The National Dream. But to many it was more than a mere vision, it was a necessity for the young nation of Canada to connect itself. And in 1885, the government-commissioned company, Canadian Pacific finally drove the last spike at Craigellachie, B.C., completing the first railway to cross the country.

This winter, 115 years later, another Canadian company will complete its own ambitious network, this time connecting North America. But Vancouver’s 360networks, formerly Worldwide Fiber Inc., is not prepared to rest there. The two-year-old fibre network builders have a bigger dream to connect much of the world.

Similar to the almost 40,000 kilometres of fibre routes that will criss-cross the U.S. and Canada by the end of this year, 360networks plans to develop another comprehensive network across Europe. Close to 8,000 of the 17,000 route kilometres that will cover the continent have been developed; the full network is scheduled to enter commercial service by the third quarter of 2001.

Of course, terrestial networks are being built all over the western world right now, by a multitude of companies. (In fact, Worldwide Fiber, once the telecommunications arm of Calgary’s Ledcor construction, spent much of the ’90s developing its fibre optic network by laying conduits at the same time and place as it built networks for companies like Qwest, Level 3 Communications and AT&T.)

What is really interesting about 360networks is its commitment to connect the continents. Already, the company is building two networks along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. And it has plans to build another massive network across the Pacific Ocean, beginning in the next couple years.

“All of these are kinds of asset-based plays,” analyst Eamon Hoey, of Fox-Hoey Consulting in Toronto, commented on 360networks’ aggressive expansion. “You put the assets in the ground or the sea bed and wait for the market to arrive. So it’s the ‘Build it and they will come’ concept.”

According to Hoey, with the world figuratively shrinking every day, a company needs to expand its network beyond the North American reach.

Not surprisingly, Joel Allen, 360networks’ vice-president of marine capacity sales, agreed with Hoey’s assessment. Allen said 360networks expects a ramp up in traffic between North America and Europe over the next few years, a time when demand for fibre bandwidth may exceed supply.

360networks’ answer, the 360atlantics network, will connect more than 12,000 route kilometres between landing points in Lynn, Mass., Halifax, Dublin, Ire. and Liverpool, U.K. According to 360networks, the network will deploy among the first transatlantic cables to support 10Gps transmission on a single channel. The entire network will consist of matching legs, creating self-healing rings, for redundancy.

“So when a carrier buys capacity from you, they’re buying an active path and a protected path,” Allen said.

360networks expects the Tyco-supplied cables to be in the water by the end of this year.

The completed south Atlantic network, which is almost double the size of 360atlantics, will debut on the commercial market soon after. 360americas, as it is now known, began life as Atlantica-1, a major network being supplied by France’s Alcatel to Bermuda’s GlobeNet Enterprises. However, 360networks acquired the company earlier this year for a value of US$1 billion.

Portions of the network, including the first linear link between Tuckerton, N.J. and Fortaleza, Brazil will be ready for lease by December. The rest of the primary ring consists of landing stations in Boca Raton, Fla., St. David’s, Bermuda, and Punta Gorda, Venezuela. A second ring will connect Fortaleza with Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

360networks also has plans to add a third ring connecting Rio with Sao Paulo, Brazil and Las Toninas, Argentina.

The Pacific network – labelled 360pacific of course – is scheduled to commence construction sometime this year. The 40,000 route kilometres of undersea cable will link the U.S. to Japan first, followed by connections to Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Phillipines and India. 360networks’ expected completion date of 2002 may allow the company to be among a very small group of players capable of handling traffic across the Pacific, noted Hoey.

“There’s significantly less options (for Internet carriers) on the Pacific side, largely because the Pacific traffic is only beginning to bulge, whereas the North Atlantic traffic has been bulging…since the end of the ’80s,” Hoey said.

He added the old way of carrying traffic across oceans, by satellite, will not work for interactive mediums.

“Satellites have always been a poor transmission device for data and voice,” he explained. “It’s good for boradcast, one way traffic.”

And what about the technology capabilities of 360networks’ undersea cables?

“Technology has advanced to the point that once your system is in service, there’s probably a new technology staring you in the face,” Allen admitted. “But we are not in a do-one-and-run situation. We are looking at this as a long term play. And the next phases within each of those geographies is already being thought out.”