A New Undersea Internet Cable will Connect the Philippines. Will It Bring Faster Connections to Domestic Consumers?

The Philippines is expecting the activation of its end of the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) internet undersea cable within 2020. The infrastructure powers the Philippine government's National Broadband network with its own public internet backbone. But will it benefit Filipino consumers?

At 12,971 km long, the Pacific Light Cable Network or PLCN is a highly anticipated undersea internet cable endeavor started in 2017 and funded by Google, Facebook, TE SubCom, and Pacific Light Data Communications (a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Soft Power Technology; owned by Chinese ISP Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Group). It is the highest capacity trans-Pacific subsea cable to date.

Features of the PLCN

Its 120 Terrabytes-per-second or Tbps data capacity makes it the highest capacity trans-Pacific cable route. It aims to also significantly improve latency in connections.

It has 6 fiber pairs, with 240 channels of 100Gbps in a single fiber pair, 24 Tbps per fiber pair and 144 Tbps for the whole system. 4 of the 6 fiber-optic pairs are owned by Chinese company Pacific Light Data Communications while the other 2 by Google and Facebook.

The PLCN employs a new optical band. Basically running on a new range of wavelength in the optical cable thereby doubling the capacity of the undersea cable.

It ventured into a new optical band. That’s because the Faster Cable had gone as far as was practically possible in transmitting signals in the conventional, or C, band, which ranges in wavelength from 1,530 to 1,565 nanometers. But engineers at Pacific Light Data Communications’ cable supplier, TE SubCom, in Eatontown, N.J., opened up an additional transmission band at wavelengths between 1,570 and 1,610 nm, called the L (for long) band. Using both the C and L bands, along with other improvements, doubled the cable’s total capacity.

From Submarine Cable Goes for Record: 144,000 Gigabits From Hong Kong to L.A. in 1 Second

US-Taiwan and US-Philippines Connections to Be Activated Except for the Chinese Connection in Hong Kong

Because of the current politics between the United States and China, the PLCN connection to Hong Kong from Los Angeles was not approved by the United States FCC. The US Government raised the presence of several security issues and risks because of the Chinese connection of the one of the cable owners.

Google received favorable ruling in April 2020 to activate its Los Angeles – Taiwan link of the cable.

Facebook is still hoping for a similar ruling from the FCC to activate its landing stations in Baler and San Fernando, Philippines. However, the Philippines’ Information and Communications Technology or DICT sees its activation to be toward the end of 3Q 2020.

The Luzon Bypass Infrastructure (LBI)

The Philippine Government thru the Bases Conversion and Development Authority or BCDA, has partnered with Facebook to use the two Luzon-landing stations of the PLCN, in a deal known as the “Luzon Bypass Infrastructure”.

It’s a 240 km long cable network corridor linking the Baler/Aurora and San Fernando landing stations. The Php 975 million project is pushed to provide international submarine cable providers with an alternative route to the dangerous Luzon Strait. In exchange the Philippine Government gets 2 Tbps capacity to use for free from the PLCN increasing government capacity to provide e-services and power its National Broadband Plan.

With the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure in place, it reduces the costs for international submarine cable owners and gives the Philippine Government 2 Tbps of capacity to use for free. It will also enable the Philippine Government to power its National Broadband network and facilitate the delivery of reliable and fast e-services to last mile locations which looks like its BCDA locations in New Clark City, Clark Freeport, Bataan Technopark, and BGC.

According to BCDA this capacity beats PLDT’s total international capacity of 1.15 TB in 2015. That’s with 2015 figures though. PLDT in a later press statement in 2017 however said it will increase its capacity to almost 8.5 Tbps by end 2019. Still putting the commercial telco giant way ahead.

By end-2017, the total capacity of its international submarine cable links (including non-Philippines terminating) will reach 4.497 Terabits per second (Tbps). This is a nearly 140% increase in capacity from end-2015, when total capacity stood at 1.889 Tbps.
Moreover, further expansion programs to meet expected rapid growth in demand for internet as well as other services requiring international facilities in the next two plans is expected to bring total capacity to 8.413 Tbps by end-2019.

Source: PLDT to expand international cable capacity to 4.5 Tbps by end 2017 and to 8.4 Tbps by end 2019, November 2017

PLDT is part of a consortium that is building a 14,557 km undersea cable called JUPITER, connecting Oregon and California in the United States, Japan, and Daet, in the Philippines. It is said to be ready for service within 2020.

Wait and See

The Pacific Light Cable Network may be sure to benefit the majority of Filipino internet consumers powered by the major telco duopoly of Globe Telecom and PLDT, only if these major local telcos interconnect with it. We are not sure if that will happen. For PLDT, it may not be needed once its JUPITER linkage will be activated. We don’t know yet what the plans are at this point.

What we do know at this point however is that the PLCN undersea cable connection brings the following benefits to the country:

  • The Philippine government’s public internet infrastructure through its National Broadband Plan will begin to be realized,
  • Government techno zones like BGC, New Clark City etc will have another route available for reliable, high speed internet connectivity,
  • The government gets to raise funds through interconnection fees, usage of the landing sites, and leasing of bandwidth, and,
  • More last mile players as Internet Service Providers (ISP) will be able to connect to this government internet backbone and fast, cheaper internet can be served to Filipinos.

While this is indeed an exciting development for internet infrastructure and connectivity in the Philippines, for the end consumer, it’s still wait and see.


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