Cyprus as regional hub for submarine cables

By Frances Miller

When we think of the state telecoms operator, Cyta, we tend to think of landlines and mobile phones. Yet hidden away under the sea, and in space, away from view, is another highly- valuable resource, namely the large international network of Cyta consisting of satellite and submarine systems and networks.

Cyta is the dominant telecommunications provider in Cyprus and its product portfolio covers the whole spectrum of electronic communications, ranging from fixed and mobile telephony to internet service provision and broadband applications.

“Cyta, through its strategic business unit Cytaglobal, is particularly active in the area of undersea cable systems, providing wholesale products and services on a global basis,” explains Yiannis Koulias, Cyta’s Chief Commercial Officer.

As Director of Cyta’s National & International Wholesale Market Division, he has led Cytaglobal in developing and promoting Cyta’s successful cable and satellite hub in the Eastern Mediterranean, contributing to establishing Cyprus as a regional telecommunications centre of excellence.

Through Cytaglobal, Cyta has invested tens of millions in several high-capacity, fibre-optic submarine cable systems and subsystems. To understand why this is an important resource, look up at a map of global submarine fibre-optic cables. You will see a cluster in the Eastern Mediterranean centred on Cyprus.

These cables run west from Cyprus to Greece, Italy, France, and as far as Portugal, UK, Belgium and Germany. Other cables run south to Abu Talat and Alexandria cable stations in Egypt, while on the east side, the cables link to Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Through Cyta’s co-ownership of transatlantic cable systems and other regional systems, Cyprus is also linked to the rest of the world.

Cyprus, through Cyta, currently serves as a major regional telecommunications hub in the Eastern Mediterranean, with multiple cables linking Cyprus to neighbouring countries and other European destinations.

“Cyta’s new undersea cable systems and subsystems to Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Italy and France, complement existing facilities, enhancing the robustness of Cyta’s international access through physical diversity and significant increase in bandwidth, thereby creating Eurasia business opportunities and a bridge between East and West,” said Koulias.

The submarine network is therefore another example of how Cyprus uses its strategic geographical position, at the crossroads of three continents, to act as a regional hub between east and west, north and south. These submarine cable connections even allow Cyprus to act as a transit point between countries that do not have diplomatic relations, such as Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

The recent interconnection of Cyta’s international networks with the extensive optical fibre networks in Greece, owned and operated by Cyta’s wholly owned subsidiary Cyta Hellas, is another boost.

“It presents additional unique business opportunities, on a common Cyprus-Greece front, along the important axis extending from the Middle East to the Balkans and Central Europe,” said Koulias.

“This interconnection of networks is a major development, which allows for a unified strategy to exploit all national and international networks of the Cyta Group for the benefit of our customers, assuming a leading role as a regional hub of great geopolitical importance,” said Yiannis Koulias.

Continuous investment needed

To keep the satellite and submarine cable systems up to date and responding to rapidly-evolving business and consumer needs, continuous investment is needed.

According to a recent article in the Financial Times, global demand for bandwidth is growing at 40% per year.

Cloud-based technology is one key source, as well as “demand for greater capacity from financial services companies seeking the smallest possible delays in transaction times (known as latency)”, it said.

Moreover, big technology companies like Microsoft and Google are also getting involved. Google was one of the investors in the $300m Faster Cable system running from the US to Japan that launched in June 2016.

This means competition for established telecoms companies. They have not stood still, however, and have been responding by joining forces with other telecoms companies. For example, Vodafone announced in May 2016 the opening of the 8,100 km Bay of Bengal Gateway (BBG) submarine cable linking India, Singapore, Malaysia, Oman, UAE and Sri Lanka.

The investment was undertaken together with five other telecoms companies: Dialog Axiata of Sri Lanka, Etisalat of the United Arab Emirates, Omantel of the Sultanate of Oman, Reliance Jio Infocomm of India and Telekom Malaysia Berhad of Malaysia.

Cyta is continuously evaluating the connection of Cyprus to other planned fibre-optic networks the world over.

“By co-owning, buying or leasing capacity, we participate in many regional and global submarine cable systems, thus leveraging our strategic location and know-how to create synergies and partnerships, ensuring that Cyprus retains its position as an important telecommunications hub in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Koulias.