Welcoming Zeus: the New Connectivity Titan of the North Sea
Fiber optic cables provide the invisible, underground, or undersea foundation for all things digital. Subsea fiber networks, specifically, transport critical information from one continent or country to another. Without these unsung heroes of the sea, vital connectivity and international communication at scale wouldn’t be possible.
We’ve recently switched on Zeus, our fortified, ultra-low-loss subsea cable running from Lowestoft, UK to Zandvoort, Netherlands to meet growing capacity needs in Europe. This fiber cable connects the economic powerhouse of London to mainland Europe, providing a significant line of data transmission between the two.
To get a behind-the-scenes look at the Zeus project, we spoke to Geir Holmer, a trusted subsea advisor to the Zayo team. Holmer has over two decades of experience in the telecommunications space and provide critical oversight and assistance on the Zeus project.
Careful planning and sustainable deployment
Implementing a subsea cable is no simple undertaking. In fact, much of the 2.5-year Zeus project consisted of carefully surveying the sea, acquiring the right permits, researching, hiring the right people for the job, and getting the right equipment for the job. Then came the deployment.
And doing the job right meant taking the environment around the cable into careful consideration.
“Sustainability has been a significant component of the project,” says Holmer, “The stretch of ocean we’ve covered is one of the more challenging stretches in the world – and it’s getting full. When you’re at the bottom of the sea with something manmade and metal, you want to treat the environment with respect.”
To properly respect this stretch of sea and the creatures and plants that call it home, the team used environmentally-friendly trenching methods and boats to lay the cable.
Like threading a needle through a minefield
Instead of digging up and disturbing the natural environment by using a massive plow to create a trench on the seabed for the cable, the Zeus team used a small jetwash to lay the cable with minimal disturbance. Even after burying the cable two meters deep, this equipment trenches so gently that the surrounding environment returns to normal an hour after the cable is laid.
Aside from taking extra caution when it comes to the environment, the Zeus team also needed to navigate challenging geopolitical and physical landscapes during the project.
A shifting geopolitical context
For one, the pandemic created unforeseen delays in the project, mostly due to supply chain, equipment, and labor shortages. In addition, the Zeus team faced deep-reaching obligations to ensure the health and safety of not only the program workforce but to others they came in contact with during the project across multiple geographical borders. But the pandemic was only the beginning of the many geopolitical hurdles the Zeus team faced during the buildout.
Brexit posed even more logistical challenges as the Zeus team suddenly had to contend with a vast amount of government paperwork, differing rules and regulations, and other complexities. What’s more, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine not only created global uncertainty but huge economic impacts raising the cost of fuel and other necessities which have further disrupted global markets.
Debris in the sea
The physical landscape of the North Sea posed its own set of challenges for the Zeus team.
“I can’t think of a more complicated body of water to deploy a fiber-optic asset in than the stretch of water that we are traversing here,” Holmer says about the section of the North Sea where Zeus is deployed, “It’s shallow, there’s lots of debris on the seabed, plus there’s difficult weather and currents.”
Among the hundreds of pieces of debris the Zeus team came across during the project was a World War II-era bomb. Luckily, the bomb was detonated before it could harm the cable and crew, but its discovery was a stark reminder of the dangers of treading the sea.
What makes Zeus stand out
The Zeus route between the UK and the Netherlands provides a critical connection between hotspots in the European market and links to Zayo’s extensive European terrestrial fiber network. While there are other cables that traverse a similar route to Zeus, it’s important to note that many of these are over 20 years old and nearing the end of their tenure.
Let’s look at some of the features of Zeus that set it apart from others in the North Sea:
- Latency. Zeus offers a low latency connection between London and Amsterdam.
- High throughput. Zeus offers a full C-band capacity of 2.65 petabits per second (Pbps) and C+L Band of 5.2 Pbps.
- Quality. Zeus uses Corning SMF-28 optical fiber with the lowest loss of any terrestrial grade single-mode fiber.
- Terrestrial connections. Zeus is purpose-built to connect with 10 primary cloud on-ramps and 80+ data centers between these core European markets via Zayo’s extensive European terrestrial network.
- Resiliency. Zeus is 100% double-armored and buried two or more meters under the seabed with connections to highly-secured landing stations providing solidity from end to end and minimizing the risk of an outage.
Creating a better future with the help of subsea cables
Holmer has big ambitions for subsea networks. He believes that a lot of potential exists in bringing the world online with the help of fiber networks, especially those in under-resourced areas that haven’t yet been connected to the Internet.
“Whereas the Internet is commonplace and critical to our everyday lives, 40% of the world’s population is offline,” Holmer says, “The difference between the privileged and less privileged is becoming greater. Connectivity plays a significant role in that. It’s hard to educate a young population that’s offline. Enabling a greater percentage of the population to come online and benefit from the positive aspects of being connected and the wealth of data you have access to and can partake in is critical.”
Holmer believes that corporations have a responsibility to bring connectivity to underserved populations. “There’s a growing movement pushing corporations to provide their services for more than just profit – it’s a moral obligation.”
Aside from bringing the world online, subsea cables can help predict natural disasters, enabling faster evacuations and more preparation time for disaster response. Tsunamis, for example, can be detected early by subsea cables, giving response teams more time to act and prevent catastrophe.
Explore Zayo’s undersea fiber routes
Zeus is only one part of Zayo’s extensive global subsea and terrestrial networks. In fact, we recently made our largest organic network investment to date, both in our subsea routes and terrestrial long-haul and metro fiber networks. Our goal is to provide redundant, reliable connectivity to some of the world’s most innovative global markets, enabling continual digital transformation for forward-thinking organizations around the world.