Howard Communications Ltd

Frequently Asked Questions About Submarine Cables & Offshore Wind Farms

If we have not answered your question below, then please contact us  and we will  help you if we can.  

Q. Is there still a market for submarine cables?

A. Yes. There are several major international companies who all have full order books - see our 'Links' page and their sales total several billion dollars per year.

Q. Haven't Satellites made submarine cables obsolete ?

A. No. Satellites use radio links so can only handle a limited amount of data. Fibre Optic undersea cables can take an almost unlimited number of channels  or data so are the mainstay of today's international networks, including the Internet. Satellites are still used for places that are hard to reach with cables, mobile applications and TV broadcast etc.

Q. Why do we need subsea cables now we have the Internet ?

A. Submarine cables provide the transport over which nearly all international Internet (and other) data passes. Without subsea cables the Internet, as we know it today, simply would not work. Fibre Optic subsea cables provide almost unlimited bandwidth and it is very easy to expand their capacity so as Internet usage grows the submarine cable capacity can be scaled quickly to meet the new demand.

 Q. Do submarine cables sink all the way to the bottom of the sea?

A. Yes. Also, in shallow water, where subsea cables are vulnerable to being broken by trawlers, anchors etc. they are actually buried in the sea bed. We can recommend design solutions to optimise cable protection I difficult areas.  

Q. What happens when a submarine cable breaks?

A. The first thing is that the traffic or power on the broken submarine cable is automatically switched to standby lines – this takes less than half a second, so you will hardly notice it. The engineers managing the cable then do tests to find where it’s broken. They then call out one of the fleet of cable ships strategically located round the world to go and fix it – this can take several weeks if the break is a long way from the base port or the weather is bad. Breaks on all undersea cables can be minimized by careful design and route selection, which Howard Communications Ltd. can help with. It is important for the owners to carry the right inventory of spares so repair operations do not get delayed.

Q. How much do repairs cost?

This is almost impossible to answer as repairs vary greatly in complexity. Cable owners usually join cable maintenance consortiums so repair ships, with trained crews and specialist equipment, are always available at favourable rates.

Maintenance is a very important aspect of cable planning and we can advise on this so please contact us if you need help.

Q. How much do submarine cables cost?

A. The cost of a submarine cable depends on its length, how many fibres it contains and the number of channels it is intended to carry. To give you an idea, a single transatlantic cable might cost around $400m. A short inter-island cable maybe less than $1m. We can carry out feasibility studies and costings for any systems you may be considering.

Q. Do undersea damage the environment and can they be recycled?

A. Subsea cables cause minimal damage to the environment and may even be beneficial. Marine plant and animal life loves living around them as they can act as an artificial reef. Route selection is important to ensure ecologically sensitive areas are avoided and we can help by writing Environmental Impact Assessments for your project.

Some undersea cables, which have become non-viable for economic reasons, have been recovered and re-laid on new routes, but generally it is best to leave old submarine cables on the seabed as recovering them can cause unnecessary disturbance.

Q. What happens to wind farms when the wind stops blowing?

A. Obviously, they stop generating electricity! Offshore wind farms are no exception, but offshore wind farms do have more consistent performance. Power companies always have generating capacity in reserve so when output from an offshore wind farm drops, they increase the output from conventional power stations.

Q. What happens when the cable to an offshore wind farm breaks?

A. Offshore wind farms are connected to the shore by several export cables, typically three spaced well apart. These are very well protected by burial, for example. If a cable does break, the remaining two cables can carry the full load from the wind farm field until a repair can be carried out. In the unlikely event of a second break the power output from the offshore wind farm may need to be reduced.

Q. Do sunspots and magnetic storms affect submarine cables?

A. Yes. They affect long telecommunications cables, especially in high latitudes and those that run east west. The voltage required to power the cables fluctuates, but the equipment in the terminal stations is designed to compensate for this, so unlike satellites,subsea cables do not need to be shut down during magnetic storms.


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