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Fiber-Optic Ridge of Russia

Fiber-Optic Ridge of Russia

20.05.2010 — Analysis

Russia intends to become one of the largest "overland" transit countries providing Internet-traffic between Europe and Asia. The Chelyabinsk-Khabarovsk fiber-optic communication line (FOCL) has been a sizeable leap towards this challenging goal. Due to it, the information flow from Russia to Japan has increased 4-5 times. The "RusBusinessNews" reporter has been informed that traditional submarine routes are going to find competitive match in the overland FOCL in the near future. 

From the Urals to Borderlands 

The construction of the communication trunk network that connected the Far East, Siberia and Urals commenced in May 2005. Rostelecom OJSC acted as a customer for the project. The company investment exceeded 5 billion rubles. Today, the Chelyabinsk-Khabarovsk communication line is the largest in Russia. It extends for 10 thousand kilometers. The minimum transmission rate is 120 gigabits per second; in the future, Rostelecom is planning to increase it to 4 terabits. At the moment, all the company communications put together are not able to provide a comparable level of traffic. 

Due to the new line, dozens of Russian towns and cities have been integrated into the DWDM core network. In addition, the new FOCL has relieved the load of the existing regional communications that can now be used for information support provided to remote communities. This approach was selected in the Khabarovsk District. 

In the foreseeable future, benefits of the new project will be available to Ural residents. The FOCL line length is 1,000 kilometers in the Ural Federal. Sergei Lukash, General Director of Uralsvyazinform OJSC, states that the new backbone network gave local operators an opportunity to extend the high-speed Internet subscription list. 

"We, together with interregional companies, intend to develop network infrastructure within Ural regions. The Chelyabinsk-Khabarovsk FOCL has a different aim - eradication of the digital divide in the country. Our neglecting of the Siberia and Far East needs will only aggravate this inequality ", - points out Anton Kolpakov, General Director of Rostelecom OJSC

Another bright prospect inherent in the project is the reduced Internet cost. However, experts believe that substantial tariff concessions should not be expected sooner than in 5-7 years (the estimated payback period for the project). 

"There is no point in expecting that in the next few days Internet tariffs will go down in the Chelyabinsk Oblast. Everything depends on service costs in each specific location. If within five years Rostelecom offers us a better price for the terminal, the users will be able to reap the benefit. Yet, we have our own tariff reduction program that has been brought into action ", notes S. Lukash.

Win-Win for Everyone 

The FOCL project is unique not only in its scale, but also in its technology concept. The fiber-optic cable that transmits a signal is built into a 500, 220 and 110 kV ground-wire cable. The alliance with electric-power companies gave the telecom operators an opportunity to save both the time required for numerous approvals and money, as expenses on construction of new communication towers would be a sequence higher. 

Electric-power companies also had a good bargain. They solved their task, providing more than 100 power plants (five of them are located in the Ural Federal District) with digital communication allowing unattended operation of substations and networks. The operators allotted to the grid company two out of 24 fibers that comprise the optical fiber cable. At the same time, by reference to the statement made by the Federal Grid Company of the Unified Energy System (FGC UES) - a Rostelecom partner - the electric-power companies invested only the money that was earmarked for construction of electrical communications within the investment program. 

On the other hand, according to Oleg Budargin, Chairperson of the Executive Board of FGC UES, the gain that the company received is tremendous. 25% of breakdowns in power grids are weather-related, and adoption of advanced technology will improve the discouraging statistics. "The provision of transmission networks with digital communication has been a significant step towards improvement of power supply reliability and creation of the intelligent network ", he emphasizes. 

The OPGC technology (the optical pilot ground cable) is not new for Russia. However, power companies generally use it independently - for network management process automation. The OPGC advantages include high reliability and sizeable lifetime - 40-50 years. Besides, due to the technology, the optical fiber cable can be installed at the temperature going down to 30 degrees below zero and with any voltage class of overhead transmission lines. 

We Are Heading East

Along with the "informatization of the whole country", Russian telecom operators set a more challenging target - aiming to augment their influence on the markets of Japan and China. A.Kolpakov states that today digital technology transfer between Europe and Asia encompasses numerous routes. Most of the Internet-routes run under the sea.

However, the route across Russia is by all means estimated as the shortest. The fact that in 2003 three consortia - FTA Enterprises Ltd., PolarNet Project and Eurasia Telecom - announced the construction of Trans-Russian cable routes is a sound evidence of Russia's high appeal to Eurasian transit. The first route was planned along the power transmission lines of RAO UES of Russia and highways; the second one would run along the bottom of Russian Arctic seas; the third communication link would go across the Russian territory (the route location was kept confidential). The three companies intended to go ahead in 2004. However, the timeframes shifted, and then dissipated for good. As a result, only two communication system operators - Rostelecom and Trans TeleCom that was set up to address the needs of the railway industry - remained on the market.

Back in the 1990s, Rostelecom built international fiber optic cable systems - "Zapadny" (Denmark-Russia), "Yuzhny" (Italy-Turkey-Ukraine-Russia) and "Vostochny" (Russia-Japan-Korea) - as well as "Moscow-Khabarovsk" Trans-Russian FOCL. The situation favored Russia's entry to the international telecommunication transit market. However, low transmission capacity (560 megabits per second) of all the three systems designed mainly for voice communication became the principal obstacle that hindered international expansion. Yet, due to its participation in the Russia-Japan-Korea project, Rostelecom gained direct access to operators of two foreign countries. 

In 2003-2004, Russian telecom operators boosted their efforts on the international transit market. In 2007, Rostelecom was a participant of 27 international projects. A year later, the company built a high-speed submarine cable system that linked directly Russia and Japan. However, according to A.Kolpakov, the long mileage of submarine networks causes losses in the signaling rate. "Such delays are especially painful for banks and large corporations that need super-advanced communication", he states.

The "Chelyabinsk-Khabarovsk" overland FOCL will be an alternative to the submarine transit on the Asian market. Its startup will increase the speed of information transmitted to Japan 4-5 times. Besides, the "overland" cable is easier to repair in case of breakdown. It is better protected against potential disasters and natural calamities, like the earthquake that hit Taiwan in late 2006. The breakdown of six transcontinental cable lines resulted in information isolation of numerous users.

In the near future, Russian telecom operators intend to increase significantly quality of the Internet services provided to Japanese and Chinese users, taking a breakthrough leap towards conquering the Eurasian telecommunication space. 

Marina Sirina 

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