Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Deep Blue Cable to extend network

Published:Friday | November 3, 2017 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson
Denis O'Brien, backer of Deep Blue Cable.

Deep Blue Cable, the new telecoms operation backed by Irishman Denis O'Brien, plans to extend its fibre-optic cable project beyond the Caribbean into the Americas.

The company foresees that roughly half of existing cable layers in the region would have outdated or failing technology within a decade, and had originally planned to connect its cable to 12 countries.

But now it is adding Colombia and Panama to the route, and will be expanding to additional landing points throughout the region, under the phase-one plans.

"In total, Deep Blue has 40 landings planned in the Caribbean, mainland United States, and South America," said Andrea Forder, Deep Blue's head of marketing and public relations, in response to Financial Gleaner queries.

"We also continue to evaluate Mexico; and Suriname and Guyana landings are being developed through a number of cooperative strategies. However, a delivery timeframe has not yet been determined for the latter two landings," she said.

The phase-one extension to Colombia and Panama will "necessitate" an adjustment to the project timeline. Route survey activities for the pan-Caribbean undersea cable will commence in the first quarter of 2018, with manufacturing and installation continuing through 2018 and into 2019, the company explained.

"There are terrestrial and marine construction elements and certainly work will be under way, subject to licence and permit availability, by the fourth quarter 2018. The projected ready-for-service date of the Deep Blue subsea cable system is second quarter 2020," Forder said.

Other markets for landing points previously disclosed by Deep Blue include British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago, and Turks & Caicos Islands. The cable system will also have dual diverse landings in the US, which will include the first landing of a cable on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

The company continues to avoid direct reference to the size of the overall investment, even though Irish media reported that the expanded plans have bumped up the investment around US$450 million.

"The investment is substantial and sufficient to deliver a resilient subsea cable system to many island nations in order to meet their long-term capacity requirements. It's important to note that by providing advanced subsea connectivity across the Caribbean and to the Americas, the Deep Blue subsea cable network will have a profound impact not only on the communications ecosystem of the Caribbean, but also on the economic growth potential of an entire region," Forder said.

The financing structure remains "confidential", she added.

"And doubtless, throughout the construction and well into operations, the make-up will be considered and improved upon from time to time. It is not possible to say whether or not a bond will ultimately become part of the debt package, which will be a future matter for the shareholder."

O'Brien, an Irish billionaire and founder of Digicel Group, holds the largest stake in Deep Blue Cable. Deep Blue is not connected to Digicel, which itself provides mobile, data and cable television services. Digicel's markets span the Caribbean, Central America and Pacific Islands.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com