Megafon, the second-largest telecommunications company in Russia, announced on July 23 that it had launched offshore survey work for a planned $1 billion trans-Arctic subsea fiber-optic cable project that will connect Europe and Asia, the Arctic Connect subsea cable project. The offshore surveys started on August 5, undertaken by MegaFon’s joint venture with Finnish stated-owned infrastructure operator Cinia Ltd, and Russian-state-owned enterprise, Rosgeologiya.
Offshore surveys are required to select the optimal route for the Arctic Connect subsea cable project. According to MegaFon, the offshore surveys were scheduled with two phases. The first phase has been underway in August 2020, to conduct a preliminary survey of the seabed profile to identify safe routes in the Arctic seas. The 2nd phase was scheduled in 2021, which will involve a detailed examination of engineering parameters for underwater cable laying, including a study of seabed rock. Similar surveys will be carried out for those sections of the Arctic Connect subsea cable route that are outside Russia's territorial waters.
MegaFon has partnered with Rosgeologiya to conduct the first phase of offshore surveys. Rosgeologiya's Professor Logachev research vessel will cover a distance of 6,500 km, focusing on those sections of the route that are characterised by the most challenging ice conditions in the Barents, Kara, Laptev, East Siberian and Chukchi Seas. The expedition started on 5 August 2020 in Murmansk and will last three months.
The current design of the Arctic Connect subsea cable project is to traverse the coastal areas of Finland, Norway, the Russian Arctic, and onwards to Japan. Some reports also indicate that the Arctic Connect cable will have a landing point in China, as state-owned China Telecom has expressed interest in working with Cinia on this project, but there has been little tangible evidence of Chinese participation in the project to date.
The Arctic Connect subsea cable was initiated by the Finnish state-owned infrastructure operator Cinia Oy, to link Europe and Asia through a submarine communication cable on the seabed along the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The total length of the Arctic Connect subsea cable will be 13,800 km, with an estimated cost of USD 0.8 to 1.2 billion.
A preliminary study for Arctic Connect was launched in 2015, followed by a political feasibility study conducted the next year.
In June 2019, Cinia and Megafon signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Arctic Connect subsea cable project. In December 2019, Megafon agreed to create the split-ownership joint venture Arctic Link Development Oy with Cinia for the construction of the Artic Connect submarine cable.
Finland has already been successful in attracting investments into building data centres. In September 2019, Google announced an additional investment of €600 million to its already existing Hamina data centre, which raises the total investment by Google in Hamina to almost €2 billion.
Once completed, the Arctic Connect project will be the shortest cable route between Europe and East Asia and is thus expected to improve telecommunications connectivity between the two continents and add “geographic diversity” to the world’s existing internet cable networks.
Although the offshore survey represents a great milestone for the Arctic Connect project, it is still skeptical and uncertain whether the Arctic Connect project will truly achieve its final deployment.