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Project Oxygen Plans Super-Internet undersea cable.

Date: Sun, 30 Nov 1997
Subject: Group Plans Super-Internet By Larry Lange, Electronic Engineering Times

Representatives of more than 250 telecommunications carriers and regulators from 175 countries will gather in Las Vegas on December 7 for the first official technical meeting on an ambitious plan to deploy an alternative "super-Internet" over the next three to six years.
New Jersey telecom startup CTR Group has issued a set of specifications and an invitation to submit technical proposals for the marine survey, installation, and maintenance of the proposed network under an initiative called Project Oxygen. CTR is expected to unveil a model for buying and pricing international bandwidth at the Vegas meeting.
The plan is for the first phase to be operational by 2000 and the entire network by 2003. Estimated to cost $14 billion, Project Oxygen's mostly undersea cable would extend 275,000 kilometers and transmit data at a minimum of 100 Gbits a second, with speeds eventually reaching one terabit a second.

Oxygen s promoters claim the global fiber-optic network could erase the boundaries between Internet and traditional telecommunications, allow true connectivity from anywhere in the world, open doors to smaller carriers that could buy capacity "on the fly", and shift the profit model from voice service to data and video.

"Today, the Internet is a voice and data-driven phenomenon" that cannot meet the business and consumer needs of the near future, said Neil Tagare, CTR's president and author of the initiative. "What we are proposing here is the network of the future; a video-based Internet, which requires greater bandwidth."

"You could almost call it breathtaking," said Graham Finnie, a research director at Yankee Group Europe in Watford, England. " If built, it would transform international telecommunications more rapidly and more completely than any previous innovation in the field."

With Project Oxygen in place, said Tagare, bandwidth will be so abundant that international voice-phone calls will eventually become a free service, with international carriers instead deriving revenue from video and data traffic and from such applications as "telemedicine" and "tel-education."

"The cost of trivial amounts of bandwidth for individual switched international phone calls will fall so low that it won't be worth billing end users for it," said Finnie of Yankee Group Europe. The current market for international phone calls is around $90 billion. If Project Oxygen takes off, Finnie said, "this revenue stream may dry up altogether in five to seven years' time."

Six unidentified multinational companies, from the United States, Europe and Japan, have provided capital to launch the project. CTR has signed up the former chairman of Egypt's national telephone company as the Oxygen project's rep in the Middle East and Africa. Other recruits include a former AT&T submarine-systems director and a former telecom adviser to President Bush.

One plus for the project in the international arena is that it would break the United States' dominance of Internet connectivity.

Currently, more than half of intra-European and intra-Asian traffic is funneled through the United States. With Oxygen, the capacity available to countries such as Russia and India would increase dramatically.

In contrast to Oxygen, such initiatives as the proposed Internet 2 and so-called Overnet solutions would yield an even more U.S.-centric Internet backbone infrastructure over the next few years. "The Internet today is a hub-and-spoke system, with the U.S. at the center of the entire world. That's not right, technologically or politically," said Tagare.

But Oxygen will not be without its problems however. It would cost a daunting $14 billion, and would require a fleet of 60 cable-maintenance ships to deal with faults -- more than double the world's current submarine-cable-maintenance fleet. Industry analysts have estimated that such a fleet would cost $100,000 each day to run.

But the worst of the problems are political. "The risk is that it's a new, untested model that Tagare is trying to impose on the international telecommunications community," said the Yankee Group's Finnie. "He has to win support, or it won't go anywhere."