Arctic Fibre reduces latency on route between Japan and UK – via the North Pole

Arctic Fibre is planning a new 24Tb/s cable network that will connect Tokyo in Japan and Europe, via the Americas. This cable aims to shave off 24 milliseconds of latency from the Tokyo to London route. It will also connect a range of communities that don’t even have good satellite connectivity. But it doesn’t take the normal route you would expect.

Arctic Fibre’s new cable is different, to reduce latency, it has to reduce distance covered. That means taking a route comprised of great circle elements, with few deviations from the ideal route as possible.

Alternative Routes

The shortest route from London to Tokyo is leaving London, crossing over Sweden, then across a portion of the Arctic Sea north of the Russian mainland. It would then go overland across a lot of Russia, before crossing the Sea of Japan to reach its destination. This 9615km route is shown on the Great Circle Mapper website. But it has disadvantages, a lot of the route is overland, through the tundra. And it’s quite away from communities along the route. This means having to rely on users that need only to communicate with each end of the link.

Traditional cables run east from Tokyo to Hawaii, and then on toward California. They then cross the continental USA overland and leave from the New York region east under the Atlantic to Europe. This route takes over 19,750km to get from end to end. We’ve mapped the route as from Tokyo to Honolulu, to Los Angeles, then New York, and finally London.

It’s not much different if you go the other way around the globe, avoiding the USA. A route from London to Gibraltar, then down through the Red Sea, across the Indian Ocean and up to Tokyo takes just under 20,000km.

Since Arctic Fiber are based in Toronto, Canada, you can assume that this isn’t the route they are going to take. Instead, it goes north from Tokyo towards Nome, Alaska. It then skirts the Alaskan coast to Prudhoe Bay, continues east around the northern Canadian mainland. It goes through the North West Passage (not quite the North Pole), before turning east to the UK below Greenland. This route will be 15,600 km long. You can see a path using Great Circle Mapper, but this 14,655km route doesn’t correctly pass the Alaskan coast. We go from Tokyo to Nome, and then to Gander, Canada before reaching London, UK, as there aren’t many international airports above the Arctic Circle.

Connecting Communities

This route will provide spurs to connect to the communities around the Alaskan and Canadian coast, including the oilfields in Prudhoe Bay. These currently use satellite or microwave relay as the connection for their Internet, if they even have Internet at all.

It is estimated that an additional 57,000 Canadians and 26,500 Alaskans will benefit from the cable and its ability to bring the world closer to them. Having access to a high-bandwidth backbone will make things like FaceTime, NetFlix and YouTube possible. But also it means that doctors can use medical tele-imaging, allowing support of operations that would previously need long-distance travel, either for the surgeon or patient. Education will also benefit, with access to online resources not only for use in class but also to support homework. And the community of oil-workers will be able to keep in contact with loved ones far away.

But who will pay?

The ultimate aim is that the finance communities will pay for a reduced latency link between London and Japan. But funding from governments to support connecting local communities will help and may prioritise certain segments in the build phase. Given that Arctic Fiber has been working with communities in Northern Canada to build awareness of the benefits of the cable, this is probably where they’re going to start. Sometimes projects like these burn all the cash with some significant infrastructure in place, that others can then take on and deliver. I’m hoping that isn’t going to be the case with this cable.

The plan

Arctic Fiber plans on surveying the route this year and having the cable laid and in service by 2016. They have already partnered with Quintillion to deliver the Alaskan segment. This is an aggressive timescale, especially considering the weather in the region, which could delay the installation considerably. Let’s see what happens over the next few years. Let’s hope the communities in Canada and Alaska get Internet via Arctic Fiber soon.

Sources: IEEE Spectrum