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Facebook and Microsoft team up to lay “highest capacity” Atlantic cable

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Microsoft and Facebook have announced plans to roll out a subsea cable infrastructure connecting the US and Spain, as the latter continues to make a physical network infrastructure play.

Not content with the ability of third party-owned infrastructure to provide next-generation connectivity for their services; both players, which made their name in software, are making the leap to physical network deployment.

MAREA, Spanish for ‘tide’, will run from North Virginia in the US to Bilbao in the north of Spain, which will apparently provide more reliable and resilient connectivity for customers in southern Europe. With capacity of 160Tbps, Microsoft claims the infrastructure will be the highest-capacity subsea cable to ever cross the Atlantic, utilising eight fibre pairs to achieve its stated capacity.

Telefónica subsidiary Telxius, a specialist submarine cable infrastructure operator, will be managing the network. The plan is for MAREA to extend beyond Spain and in to network hubs across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The move marks another shift towards hardware by traditional internet-based companies. While Microsoft cites the partnership as an enablement platform for greater Azure coverage and service continuity; Facebook’s contribution adds further momentum to its network infrastructure play.

Earlier this year, Facebook announced its Terragraph infrastructure project, which is an urban wireless initiative using the unlicensed 60GHz band, based on the WiGig standard. Facebook aims to create a high-speed urban mesh network using Terragraph and its complementary Massive MIMO project Aries, which it says will use a mass of antennae and base stations to maximise spectral and energy efficiency. It wants to see how far it can push Massive MIMO, and referenced 5G in its announcement as the era in which this project will be most suited.

Speaking about Terragraph and Aries in its announcement, Facebook said: “Terragraph incorporates attributes and industrial design required for fast, attractive, and affordable deployment across cityscapes. Its reduced interference and ability to operate in non-line-of-sight conditions increases customer reach. For customers or business in multi-dwelling units or high-rises, the Terragraph system can be externally attached to a building and connected to an in-building Ethernet data network. Combined with Wi-Fi access points, Terragraph is one of the lowest cost solutions to achieve 100 percent street-level coverage of gigabit Wi-Fi.”

Essentially, Facebook is making a wireless play. The blue-thumbed digital friendship platform, however, is doing so with open technology and standards in a way which could, ostensibly, benefit the wider mobile ecosystem.

Coupled with today’s MAREA announcement, Facebook’s infrastructure intentions are becoming pretty clear: it doesn’t want to be reliant on third party networks to deliver its services. The Facebook VP of Network Engineering, Najam Ahmad, hinted at this future independence when discussing the announcement.

“By creating a vendor-agnostic design with Microsoft and Telxius, we can choose the hardware and software that best serves the system and ultimately increase the pace of innovation. We want to do more of these projects in this manner – allowing us to move fast with more collaboration. We think this is how most subsea cable systems will be built in the future.”

Work on MAREA is expected to begin in August this year, with completion anticipated around October 2017.

Here’s a handy map of the route.

Facebook Microsoft MAREA


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