A Visit to Dialog’s BBG Submarine Cable Landing Station

984

If you would recall, when we were at the Kandy IT/BPM week we came across a rather interesting quote by Navin Peiris of Dialog. His quote was “The more speed you give, the more there will be people to use it”.  He was of course referring to Internet and connection speeds and that indeed is where our story about the BBG cable begins.

It was perhaps a day like all others. We, the ReadMe team were told that we would be visiting one of Dialog’s data centers akin to the excursion we had with Hutch. Ever ready for a new challenge, we accepted and on Tuesday, we met up in front of the Dialog HQ to begin our journey. It is there that we found out where we’re really going. Located in the heart of Mt. Laviniya surrounded by trees and hotels, lies a rather large facility owned by Dialog.

This was Dialog’s new Undersea Cable landing station

BBG Cable. Dialog Axiata
Image Credits: Pradeep Liyanage

The cable, simply referred to as BBG or Bay of Bengal Gateway, is an undersea submarine fiber optic cable. It provides a direct trunk connection between Barka and Penang with four branches to Fujairah, Mumbai, Colombo and Chennai. Owned by a consortium of Telecommunication operators including Vodafone, Omantel, Etisalat, Reliance Jio Infocomm, Dialog and Telekom Malaysia, the construction of this cable commenced in May 2013 and was completed by the end of 2014.

Spanning a total length of 8040km, the cable covers an area from Penang where the system is connected via a terrestrial connection to Singapore. The length of the submarine Cable system is 5934 km from Barka to Penang, with a 216 km Branch to Fujairah, 426 km branch to Mumbai, 142 km branch to Colombo and a 1322 km branch to Chennai. Do the math and the BBG cable is 8040 km.

BBG Cable. Dialog Axiata
Image Credits: Dialog Axiata

Built by Alcatel-Lucent, thee is a three fibre pair cable with submerged Repeaters. Using a technology known as DWDM or dense wavelength division multiplexing, one is able to increase the capacity of this cable without additional submarine intervention. Based on 100G, the initial equipped capacity of the system is 9 Tb/s and a design capacity of 54.5 Tb/s.

In addition, the cable is also unique in terms of utilization, where rather than the traditional MIU KM model, they adopt a more innovative and cost effective digital line section (“DLS”) based model. So there is essentially no need to reserve a portion of the total capacity for congestion. Furthermore, this also allows each member of the Consortium to carry out an upgrade when and where required

Setting up this cable was by no means an easy task. An estimated 240Million USD was spent on the entire project with additional costs of USD 33Million to connect Sri Lanka to the BBG cable and another 100M USD to set up the landing station in Mt. Laviniya to provide the single largest source of internet connectivity to Sri Lanka. As such, this cable is the first 100G coherent Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) technology to link Sri Lanka to the rest of the world. We also found out that before this cable, Sri Lanka’s Internet throughput was averaging around 1-2Tb/s.

With the BBG cable, we now have a throughput of a staggering 6.4Tb/s. This means our internet connectivity speeds have increased by around 6x than before.

How Was The BBG Cable Laid?

Well, the answer to that question is “very carefully”. But jokes aside, a submarine cable is not something that one can simply drop into the sea and expect it to sink to the bottom and work like a charm. There are certain procedures and steps that must be taken. Using a ship and a remote operated vehicle, the cable is carefully laid out along the ocean with little buoys attached to the cable to keep it afloat.

BBG Cable. Dialog Axiata
One of the devices used to lay Submarine cables
Image Credits: Dialog Axiata

When the cable draws closer to land and the landing station, smaller boats are dispatched to continue the laying of the cable to the landing station. Once all the connections are completed, the buoys are then severed and the cable sinks to the seabed. This raises a number of concerns in terms of the protection of the cable as it can be damaged by propellers of other ships and thus be rendered inoperable. For that, a special team of technicians exist who constantly monitor the cable to make sure it is performing to its optimum level.

From the beach shore, the cable is buried under 2 meters of sand and is then kept in an enclosure called a beach man hole. From there, it is laid out to a headwall from where the connections to the land are given.

Inside the Landing station, we got to see the cable for ourselves. Wrapped around a large wheel like contraption, the cable receives its power from cables housed within the submarine cable itself which is then connected to the massive generators located in the Power room.

Inside the Cable termination room

This is where all the magic happens. The cable now stripped of its course covering is now simply a fine fiber optic cable that is connected to a plethora of large machines that monitor, control and warn the technicians present in the room about the cable’s performance. From this room, Dialog is able to control the bandwidth that is given to customers, both enterprise and consumer at the press of a few buttons (and also the pressing of a number of switches). It should be noted that no one can simply waltz into this room and twiddle around with the settings. You have to be authorized to do so.

The Cable Termination Room Image Credits: Pradeep Liyanage (BBG Cable. Dialog Axiata)
The Cable Termination Room
Image Credits: Pradeep Liyanage

From there,we headed to the Power control room

This is where the cable and the entire facility receive power from. Towards the left of the room, there is a towering collection of batteries, each with a rated power output of 1500Ah. The center of the room holds the power delivery console. In terms of sheer power, the facility can run upto 48 hours on battery in case of emergencies, but thankfully, there have been no such scenarios.

BBG Cable
Infinite Power.. Well almost
Image Credits: Pradeep Liyanage

What does this mean for ye average internet user?

It was interesting to note that Sri Lanka Telecom PLC was rather monopolistic in their approach to provide internet to their users. But now, with access to the BBG cable, dialog can provide a much more enhanced and customized internet experience to their customers.

If you are an existing Dialog broadband or 4G customer, then the results of the BBG cable should be visibly apparent. So you can expect your cat pictures to upload and/or download faster. If you’re a hardcore online multiplayer online gamer, then you will immediately notice much lower pings in almost all of your games and also a decrease in the rate of disconnections in game. For the movie and download buff, you should see a significant increase in your download speeds and a drop in buffering times too. All the earmarks of the BBG cable at work.

7 COMMENTS

  1. “It was interesting to note that Sri Lanka Telecom PLC was rather monopolistic in their approach to provide internet to their users.” – SLT is al licensed cable operator while Dialog is not. SLT has raised this concern in it’s annual report.

    Industry Regulatory Drawing fibre in the last mile by telco service providers without legal rights is a threat
    to SLT’s wholesale and retail businesses Threat for SLT’s business. Revenue loss Medium SLT has raised its concerns to TRCSL and placed a complaint against the license violation

    TRC issues licenses without proper study.

  2. Brilliant. learnt a lot. Since Dialog has it’s own backbone now they should focus giving full coverage islandwide. The rates and GB’s are fair enough compared to rest of the region. With such an investment it’s unfair for us to expect Dialog to drop rates, as from a business perspective Dialog too should recover the investment.

    This is an eye opener to all operators to be innovative and give better coverage. It’s high time the underperforming telcos Airtel, Hutch and Eti does something innovative and give better coverage.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here