GIS Analysis In Submarine Telecom Planning

Rafaela Chumbo
April 8, 2020

In YUNGO, one of the tasks we face daily, as engineers and designers of FTTH networks, is the planning of routes for installation of cables. This planning, carried out based on the crossing of different geographical layers, facilitates and helps decision making, compliance of the projected rules, reduction of implementation costs and, consequently, the quality of the product we deliver to our clients.

The data we frequently consult, in order to design these networks, is essentially geographic and topographic data along with the inspection of street view images. This data allows us to design these networks remotely, with trustable and accurate results on a city-wide level.

Therefore, it is not hard to imagine this methodology also being used in the planning of networks on a continental scale. But what about when we think on an intercontinental scale? Could you make and plan such designs across oceans? This subject tends to capture people’s attention probably because most feel it to be beyond our grasp.

In fact, the current demand for communications and growing necessity for sharing information (in today’s society of rapid globalisation) further encourages the rigour in the geographical disposition of the oceanic structures required for intercontinental scale operations.

How can we overcome this inaccessibility when facing this type of challenge? The key is in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These tools facilitate a visual perspective of inaccessible areas, providing economic benefits, in planning, installation and maintenance phases. With GIS tools it is possible to attribute heights to certain characteristics of the bottom of the ocean, favouring or avoiding them according to predetermined requirements.

To better visualise the application of these tools, a fictional scenario of an implementation project of submarine telecommunications cables between Georgetown (Guiana) and Atlantic City (USA) has been used. In a direct line, the desired route crosses the Lesser Antilles Volcanic Arc which corresponds to a zone influenced by potential volcanic activity.

When defining a possible route for the submarine cables these types of areas are better avoided, as was demonstrated after the 2006 earthquake in southwestern Taiwan, where several submarine cables were destroyed as a consequence of a submarine landslide. The viability and sustainability of a project of such magnitude should therefore take these scenarios into consideration.

Besides the geological considerations, it is important to analyse the bathymetry. Through this it is possible to “visualise” the bottom of the ocean, avoiding mountains or trenches where the slopes are irregular and steep. If we imagine a cable placed along a mountain chain, we can expect the length of the cable to be likely greater than necessary, and consequently more expensive than, perhaps, if the cable was placed in the surrounding area.

With the use of GIS tools, as a means of spatial analysis, cost-distance and least cost path, it is possible to assign different weights to the areas to be avoided or preferred.

Trajectories are consequently generated and, despite their longer route, are able to reduce costs and promote the sustainability of the project to be developed.

So it can be seen that, these challenging tasks, once unimaginable, are therefore, no longer beyond our grasp. GIS tools are the “eyes” that help us to take innovative engineering to some of the most inaccessible places on earth.


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