New Zealand should soon be rather well-connected to the rest of the world, at least via the internet, thanks to a bunch of new sub-sea cables coming onstream.
While the Southern Cross cable with its figure-eight loop protective structure has been working well during the past decade and a half, and continues to have its life extended, it's never wrong to have more options for NZ businesses.
Once there's a cable operator which is trucking along nicely like Southern Cross though, the business case for a new connection can be difficult to make. Thanks to advances in fibre-optic data transmission tech, it's not that hard or expensive for cable systems to expand their capacity. Since they have first-mover advantage with customers tied in on multi-year contracts, newcomers find it hard to justify multi-million dollar cable projects.
Nevertheless, Spark and Vodafone, with Australia's Telstra chipping in, look set to have the Tasman Global Access (TGA) cable up and running by next January.
TGA runs between Raglan and Sydney, and is budgeted at US$70 million ($96m). The 2300 km cable was meant to supply 30 terabits per second (tbps) capacity, and be ready by the middle of 2014 but that didn't pan out for the three telcos which couldn't make the original business case stick.
Now, the TGA will supply 20 tbps instead. In comparison, the Southern Cross says its capacity with future upgrades is 14-24 tbps. Around 5.8 tbps of Southern Cross is currently used or "lit" as the industry jargon goes.
The Hawaiki cable, which also had to struggle to get off the ground, this month applied with the US Federal Communications Commission regulator to build a landing station. That points to the Hawaiki cable getting ready to build the link, which is great news, not the least for REANNZ, our academic network which is an anchor tenant on the system.
Hawaiki promises to add some 30tbps of bandwidth to the US by 2018, but there could be more coming up: Southern Cross is looking at extending the life of the current cable system, and is plotting a new route for it. This would add 60 tbps by 2020.
Once there's a cable operator which is trucking along nicely like Southern Cross though, the business case for a new connection can be difficult to make.
Having three new cables, one transtasman and two across the Pacific extending to Australia could make life challenging for Subpartners APX-East system, which has been talked about for the past few years and was scheduled to be operational last year. APX-East has a design capacity of 38 tbps, and would have a spur connection to Auckland as well, but we'll see if it comes off.
All that transmission capacity may seem like a waste of money and effort if we look at today's data use, but it'll end up being used. Despite the angst from some commentators at the thought of having ultrafast broadband connections as fast as one gigabit per second, these will become the norm because it doesn't make sense anymore to slow down the network to 30 or 100 mbps. Perhaps not so long from now we'll think of residential broadband connections in terms of capacity or how many users and devices they'll support, and not down and upload speeds.
UFB usage for streaming video, cloud computing and the Internet of Every Single Thing There Is (okay, I made up that last thing) will drive demand for the new cables, with prices dropping and, I hope, new, connected businesses moving to Aotearoa which is now well-connected and won't become isolated if a fishing boat drags an anchor across a cable.
For a small country thousands of kilometres away from everywhere, that's probably not such a bad thing.