21 Submarine Cable Industry Statistics and Trends

Submarine cables are not actually associated with submarines. This term is a reference to any type of electrical cable that would be laid on a seabed. The industry includes any cables that would be laid along the bottom of a freshwater body of water as well.
There are two primary cables that are manufactured by the industry: submarine communications cables and submarine power cables.

Modern cable, which are laid by specially designed ships, are about 25mm in diameter and have a weight of 5,000 pounds per mile. Larger, heavier cables are sometimes used for submarine cable projects that are close to shore.

Submarine cables have connected all the world’s continents, with the exception of Antarctica. The first idea to lay a submarine cable came as early as 1839. The first commercial cables were created in 1850 and laid across the English Channel through funding by the local telegraph company. By 1853, Great Britain had been linked with Belgium, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

Important Submarine Cable Industry Statistics

#1. In 2013, new submarine cable systems average just over 9 Tbps. New systems being installed today are averaging above 35 Tbps. Systems scheduled for a 2019 installation have a capacity above 60 Tbps. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#2. The Transatlantic region has seen lit capacity rates at 18% of total, which is slightly above the global average of 15%. In 2016 and 2017, capacity rates were 21% and 22% respectively. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#3. Along the U.S.-Brazil submarine cable route, the total capacity has increased by over 50%, thanks to new high capacity systems that were added in 2017. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#4. As of 2017, there were about 430 submarine cables that were in service around the world. In total, there are about 1.1 million kilometers of submarine cables that are currently operating around the world right now. (TeleGeography)

#5. Submarine cables can come in various lengths. The CeltixConnect Cable, between Ireland and the U.K., is just 131km in length. The Asia America Gateway is at the other end of the extreme, more than 20,000km in length. (TeleGeography)

#6. The planned MAREA cable will be capable of carrying 160 Tbps once it is installed. (TeleGeography)

#7. There are more than 100 cable faults recognized by the industry every year. 38% of the faults that occur are because of fishing activities. Another 25% of the faults occur because of anchorage issues. Just 6% of the faults that occur with submarine cables each year are because of component failures. (TeleGeography)

#8. Although shark bites are a common reason cited for submarine cable faults, there is no data to back up such a statement. Between 2007-2014, there were 0 cable faults accountable to fish bites, which includes sharks. (International Submarine Cable Protection Committee)

#9. The average lifespan of a submarine cable at the time of its manufacture is 25 years. Most are retired earlier because they become obsolete rather quickly. (TeleGeography)

#10. For the global fleet of cable ships, 21 of them are dedicated to private or club maintenance zones. 26 of the ships are dedicated to installation work. There are also 4 ships in the current fleet which have not been designated with a specific purpose. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#11. 41% of the cable ship fleet is stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. 37% of the fleet is stationed on the Pacific Ocean. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#12. Although the cable ship fleet has averaged 1 new ship addition per year since 1995, that is because there were 8 ships added to the fleet in 2002. Another 3 ships were added in 2001 and 2003. From 2004-2013, there were no new ships added to the fleet at all. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#13. Australia and Asia have the most landing stations for the submarine cable industry by region, accounting for 34% of the stations between 2013-2017. Europe comes in second, accounting for 25% of landing stations, with the Americas in third, with 23%. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#14. Just 19% of planned systems for the installation years of 2018 and 2019 are being driven by data center and OTT providers. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#15. Over the past 5 years, the submarine cable industry has added an average of 32% capacity to its major cable routes, when upgrades and new system builds are included with the figures. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#16. Global capacity on submarine cables is expected to increase by more than 140% by the end of 2022. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#17. In the Americas region, total capacity levels have quadrupled since 2013, despite the fact that the region has maintained an average lit capacity of 15% over that time. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#18. For the new planned installations, which offer more than 100,000km of submarine cable to be added to the global infrastructure, 28% of the expansion is expected to occur in Australia and Asia. Expansion around the Indian Ocean, the Transatlantic region, and the Transpacific region, are expected to increase by 16% each respectively. Even the Arctic is getting involved, with a 3% expansion in planned systems. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#19. Since 1987, more than $45 billion has been invested into submarine cables. Nearly 90% of this total has been financed by traditional consortia. Since 2013, more than $7 billion has been invested. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#20. For the system upgrades that have occurred, 55% of submarine cables have been upgraded to 100G or better. Many older systems are still used, however, which may not support 10G service. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

#21. Europe has received the most system upgrades since 2013, accounting for 31% of the activities in this area. (Submarine Telecoms Forum)

Submarine Cable Industry Trends and Forecast

Through the year 2022, there are 35 systems that are currently planned for installation by the submarine cable industry. Another 50 systems have been newly installed or are currently under construction. When combined with the repair work that is required because of natural events, such as earthquakes, or impacts caused by commercial vessels, there are many opportunities available to support this industry in future days.

International bandwidth has grown by an average of 40% each year since 2012. Five companies: Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple are responsible for this growth. When combined, these 5 firms are responsible for 70% of the traffic that is fueling the desire to expand through submarine cables.

Assuming these tech giants are able to continue their rapid rates of growth, the submarine cable industry will continue to see high levels of investment over the next 5-year and 10-year forecast periods. Challengers, such as low-cost satellite internet, could challenge the industry in some ways. Overall, however, the desire to be connected as created a higher demand for submarine cables around the world.