A supply contract for the Southern Cross cable project could be awarded this month.
Five companies — Fujitsu, NEC, Alcatel, KDD and Tyco — are on a short list of suppliers and the process of choosing one has already begun.
Permits for the work are “well advanced”, says Andrew Riddle, manager of international cable arrangements for Telecom, which is mounting the project along with Optus and WorldCom.
Riddle says 27 other parties, mostly carriers, have signed up for a pre-sale stake in the capacity on the cable. The three initial partners are thought to have reserved about half the capacity on the 40Gbit/s network for themselves.
The cable will eventually be a ring linking the US mainland, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii, with a spur to Fiji. There will be a choice of cable stations in each country — in New Zealand’s case there will be in Takapuna and Whenuapai.
Phase One of the project, linking the established station at San Luis Obispo in California with Hawaii, Auckland and Sydney, is set for completion in the last quarter of next year, and the return leg to a new cable landing at Bodega Bay, California, is due a year later.
Riddle says Telecom decided to enter the project after being faced with a capacity shortage in the region. The last major cable to the US, PacRim West, was built in the late 80s and had been expected to suffice until the year 2005 — but actually reached its capacity in 1995.
“Historically, we’ve always underestimated demand and that’s likely to continue,” says Riddle.
Meanwhile there are signs that Telstra, which declined to enter the project in favour of building its own transtasman cable, may be having second thoughts.