Nearly all of the world's daily data movement is happening through the ocean cables. Communication satellites are also used for this but their market share is only about 1%. While countries like the US, Europe and Japan are the ones controlling this cable market, their dominance is not as safe as they thought.
Another formidable opponent is seeking to gain a bigger market share from this important market. China's giant telecom carrier, Huawei, has made the industry pay attention when it has completed a cable connection between South America and Africa, which has just stepped into the field a decade ago.
There are nearly 400 underground cables at the bottom of the oceans around the world. They are the bridge to bring any email or digital file from one continent to another. In addition, the nations themselves operate numerous secret underground submarine cables for military purposes.
The leader in the global submarine cable market is America's SubCom, Japan's NEC, and Europe's Alcatel-Lucent. Together these companies control more than 90% of the total length of marine cable lines globally.
Since about a decade ago, Huawei has broken into this business by establishing a joint venture with British company Global Marine Systems. They expanded their presence by spreading short interconnected cables in the region, such as Southeast Asia and Russia's Far East. But by the end of last September, Huawei surprised industry leaders by completing a 6,000-kilometer transatlantic cable, linking Brazil and Cameroon.
During the period from 2015 to 2020, Huawei plans to complete 20 new cables – mostly short cables under 1,000 km. But even after completing this goal, Huawei's market share is still less than 10%. However, in the long term, the company can emerge as a formidable rival.
It is estimated that now Huawei has participated in about 30 submarine cable projects. The company also said that there are about 60 other projects in hand to upgrade cable connection stations to enhance transmission capacity.
Huawei's resurgence can be explained by at least three main reasons:
First, in just a decade, Huawei was able to deploy long cables that show its capacity can challenge veteran competitors in the market. Besides the Brazilian-Cameroon cable, the Chinese giant also built a cable connection between Pakistan and Kenya, between Djibouti and France.
Second, Huawei already has highly competitive technologies for land-based telecommunications infrastructure. They can take advantage of this to provide underwater repeater – or devices to restore degradation in optical fiber signal strength on the move – and transmission equipment in connected ground stations .
Third, Huawei benefited from Beijing's policy to promote the participation of Chinese companies in the construction of digital infrastructure around the world, through the Belt and Road Initiative. While it is impossible to know exactly how much Huawei has received from Beijing, it has brought an important advantage to significantly cut costs compared to its Japanese, US and European rivals.
Potential risks for countries like the US and allies
The strong rise of the Chinese telecommunications giant has raised concerns for security legislators in the US, Japan and Australia. Not only about data security issues when the company holds an undersea cable system, but also geopolitical issues.
Although security experts believe that blocking the information transmitted via fiber optic cables is difficult, they can be completely eavesdropped when transmitted via ground-connected stations.
Ground-based stations are also the biggest weakness in this system as it not only has the ability to be eavesdropped, but is also exposed to other risks such as terrorist attacks. If a ground-connected station of an important cable route is destroyed, an enormous amount of international communication will be interrupted immediately, and cause serious consequences.
Part of the submarine cable system.
Moreover, history has shown how important these underground cables play. During World War I, Britain was in the best position compared to the warring parties in an effort to maintain a global communications system through which they could monitor and block enemy messages. through your cable network. After the war ended, the winners continued to argue with each other to divide the cable network developed by Germany.
Therefore, security officials of the US, Japan and Australia are gradually restricting Huawei's involvement in building cable connections between one of the three countries, as well as warning other governments to prevent This company involves the construction of main cables.
Yet another even greater concern is to prevent Huawei from engaging in cable connections between NATO members. This may be a big challenge when many US allied countries in Europe, such as the UK and Germany, are still leaving open the possibility of using Huawei devices for their 5G network.
As the global competition for the top spot between the US and China is escalating, it will not be long before the ocean floor will become the main battleground for this race.
Refer to Nikkei Asian Review