'We now have the city with most submarine cables in the world'

Bnamericas Published: Friday, July 09, 2021
'We now have the city with most submarine cables in the world'

In part due to its strategic location, Brazil’s Fortaleza, capital of northeast state Ceará, has become a hot spot for submarine cables, attracting projects carried out by internet giants, telecom operators and wholesale connectivity providers.

In the wake of the submarine cables, come internet exchange points and datacenters, needed to host and store booming connectivity.

Fortaleza also boasts an 80,000km fiber backbone connecting its cities and neighboring states, in addition to being an important center for wind and solar energy, which is key to power all those projects.

BNamericas talked about that and more with Júlio Cavalcante, Ceará's secretary of trade, services and innovation.

BNamericas: Fortaleza has recently received different international submarine cable projects, the most recent being EllaLink, which connects South America to Europe. How is the process for the arrival of new cables going?

Cavalcante: With the arrival of these two EllaLink cables – one comes from Portugal and the other comes from and returns to São Paulo – Fortaleza becomes the world leader in concentration of submarine cables in a single location.

The UAE [Fujairah city] held the lead and we now have the city with the most submarine cables in the world.

Among the recent projects, there's virtually no cable arriving at Latin America without going through Fortaleza.

BNamericas: How many are there?

Cavalcante: Fortaleza now has 16 cables. And we have two more cables planned for this half [two cables from the South Atlantic Express (Saex) system, planned for the third quarter], so we’ll reach 18 by the end of the year. 

We’re also in talks with companies about new projects, which unfortunately we cannot disclose at the moment.

This process started many years ago. We already have 20-year-old cables installed here, such as the one from CenturyLink [Lumen].

This presence is sometimes low-profile on the part of companies, also for security and business reasons.

But these cables are the result of Ceará’s differentiated geographic location, which even attracted other sectors seeking to benefit from that, such as logistics. Both port and air. That’s the case of the Pecém complex. The industrial complex, which also includes the port, has the port of Rotterdam as a partner.

This is due to the fact that Ceará is a route to North America and even to Asia through the Panama Canal.

Likewise, Germany’s Fraport, one of the largest airport operators in the world, is participating in the concession of our international airport, also because of this differentiated logistical position.

In recent times, we’ve started to see even greater interest [in telecom infrastructure] and the state has started to develop strategies to maximize the results of this advantage and reap the most benefits of this attractiveness.

BNamericas: In what way?

Cavalcante: One of the policies that was developed was to boost internal connectivity. 

A few years ago, the government began investing in a state-wide backbone, called Cinturão Digital, which already spans more than 16,000km of optical fiber. A fiber pair from this backbone was awarded to a consortium of local internet providers, some of which are now very large, such as Brisanet, Wirelink and Mob Telecom, for the deployment of last-mile fiber-to-the-home networks.

This private investment in the last-mile led Ceará today to have more than 80,000km of fiber, a network that spreads also to neighboring states in the north, northeast and even to states in the center-west. 

According to data from [regulator] Anatel, Ceará is now the state with the largest number of municipalities having 75% of their area or more covered by broadband.

There are 185 municipalities with this characteristic in Brazil. Of these, 82 are in Ceará.

All of this, linked to the external structure of submarine cables, makes Ceará a natural path not only for local municipalities but for other states to reach this high-speed internet with the world.

In parallel to that, the state information and communication technology company [Etice] began to build a strategy to attract international datacenters, large cloud service providers, taking advantage of the proximity of submarine cables and of internal connectivity.

BNamericas: How does this strategy work?

Cavalcante: Ceará's public sector is committed to being their client. The government, through a decree from the governor, established that the public sector will no longer invest in building its own datacenters and servers. Instead, it will hire a cloud service. And not just cloud infrastructure, but also software-as-a-service applications.

The health department, for example, is able to hire a medical records control solution as a cloud service from companies accredited for this process.

Among them are companies such as Google, IBM, AWS, Microsoft, Oracle… the leading cloud server providers in the world.

BNamericas: But these providers that you mentioned don’t have datacenters in Fortaleza, do they?

Cavalcante: As a counterpart, they have the obligation, within a period of two years, to either build their own datacenter – investing at least the same amount they were hired for – or else to use datacenters that are installed in the state to provide the service.

BNamericas: What have they been opting for?

Cavalcante: There is a mix between the two models. Some are opting for their own datacenter investments and others are deciding to use datacenter structures already in place in the state to make the collocation [installation of servers].

AWS, Oracle and Microsoft are using third-party datacenters, but we’re discussing with them eventual investments in their own datacenters in the state of Ceará.

Furthermore, Ceará’s Etice becomes an integrator of these services. This means that, as a public company, it can offer such cloud services to any public agency in the country, at municipal, state or even federal levels.

BNamericas: Can you give an example?

Cavalcante: There’s a solution for boards of trade hosted in a cloud in Ceará that serves six states, going to eight, including states as far as Rio Grande do Sul.

Every part of starting a business – that is, the documentation, the integration, including with the municipality – is able to rely on this solution offered by Ceará’s Etice through the cloud infrastructure of local providers.

It’s also important to say that, in this accreditation process [for the cloud companies], there are other obligations and counterparts required, such as training people in technologies and also supporting Ceará startups.

BNamericas: Are there any other policies in place to facilitate or attract these investments?

Cavalcante: I would say that with regard to cables, the geographic location itself generates attractiveness. 

There are states trying to allocate resources from the government to these projects. Here, even without the government putting in direct resources, the projects keep on coming.

But obviously, what we can work on in terms of strategy, especially for datacenters, we’re developing.

The fact is that these companies seek political and regulatory stability...

BNamericas: Natural disaster-free zones, constant supply of energy…

Cavalcante: Exactly. Another important point is the issue of renewable energy. 

And here our power generation potential is immense, not to mention the fact that we have a program of incentives for renewable energy. And, recently, Ceará advanced on the issue of green hydrogen.

One of the reasons was precisely because the state has been a pioneer in wind and solar energy. And it doesn’t only have the energy parks, but also a manufacturing industry flourishing on the heels of this potential. 

We have one of the largest wind turbine producers in the world, Denmark’s Vestas, installed in Ceará, manufacturing the most powerful turbine running in Brazil today.

We also already have projects for offshore plants, which generate five times more energy than onshore plants. 

All of this also generates attractiveness. Because energy is a very important input for datacenters. These companies are large energy consumers and are being pushed, many of them, to have short-term sustainability goals, to become environmentally correct.

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