Google has joined a consortium of Asian companies, Bharti Airtel, Global Transit, KDDI Corporation, Pacnet, and SingTel, to build an undersea transpacific fiber optic cable that will provide much greater bandwidth capacity between the United States and Japan. According to the press release, the cost of the new “Unity” cable effort will be $300 million. Reportedly, each fiber pair (five expandable to eight) will have capacity of up to 960 Gigabits per second (Gbps). The bandwidth should be available in 2010, the group says.
The Google Blog explains the company’s rationale for the investment:
As more and more people conduct online searches and interact with applications like Gmail, Google Earth and YouTube, we’ve had to think outside the box to create a more scalable, affordable and easy to manage network that meets our users’ needs worldwide. One of the biggest challenges we face is staying ahead of our broadband capacity needs, especially across Asia.
This move obviously raises the question of whether this is part of a larger “end-run” around ISPs and existing bandwidth providers. Google’s participation in the 700MHz spectrum auction and its involvement with the so-called “white space coalition,” combined with this move suggest a larger strategic effort to own its own pipes, as it were.
Om Malik provides some additional historical perspective on Google’s direct infrastructure development efforts. Google itself dispels the notion that Google is going to “get into the undersea cable business”:
If you’re wondering whether we’re going into the undersea cable business, the answer is no. We’re not competing with telecom providers, but the volume of data we need to move around the world has grown to the point where in some cases we’ve exceeded the ability traditional players can offer. Our partnership with these companies is just another step in ensuring that we’re delivering the best possible experience to people around the world.
Google may not be competing with telecoms but, as the totality of the company’s efforts show, it’s not relying on them entirely, either.