Telecom New Zealand, Optus and WorldCom last week officially kicked off the Southern Cross network project — a direct cable link to the US from New Zealand and Australia — with Alcatel and Fujitsu announced as cable suppliers for the $US800 million contract.
The network, expected to cost more than $US1 billion, will be a 29,000km under-sea, high-capacity, fibre-optic loop linking New Zealand and Australia with Hawaii, mainland US and Fiji.
Initial capacity on the network will be 40 gigabits (which will gradually increase) and so far 30 companies, including phone carriers and Internet service providers, have signed up for a share of capacity in the Southern Cross cable.
The first phase of the project, linking Australia and New Zealand to the US, is expected to be completed by the end of 1999. The second phase, routing the cable back to Australia via Fiji, is due for completion in 2000.
The Southern Cross cable will add to New Zealand's current submarine cable links — Tasman 1 and Tasman 2 to Australia, ANZCAN to the United States and PacRim West and PacRim East to the US, all of which have less than one gigabit capacity each.
Alacatel will be the major supplier, with most of the cable being produced at the cable company's Port Botany plant in Australia. Alcatel South Pacific president Ron Spithill says the company will spend $A25 million to increase the volume of cable it produces.
A separate project company, Southern Cross Cables (SCCL), has also been established by three telecomms sponsors of the project. SCCL will build, own, operate and maintain the network, as well as market capacity on the cable.
Southern Cross is described as "a third-generation optical fibre amplified sub-marine cable system" and will support synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) transmission and wave division multiplexing (WDM).
SDH is a family of fibre-optic transmission rates from 51.4Mbit/s to 1322Gbit/s created to provide the flexibility needed to transport many different signals with different capacities.
WDM is a way of increasing the capacity of optical fibre simultaneously operating at more than one wavelength. Signals can be multiplexed by transmitting at different wavelengths down the same fibre.