Google gets to work on its sixth private subsea cable

Google announced plans to deploy its sixth private subsea cable to connect the U.S. to various points in South America, a move designed to strengthen low-latency access to its products and services, including Google Cloud.

Named Firmina after Brazilian abolitionist Maria Firmina dos Reis, the cable will be built with 12 fiber pairs and come with a key resiliency feature baked in. In a blog, Google Cloud VP of Global Networking Bikash Koley explained it will be the longest cable in the world capable of sustaining operations with a power source at just one end in the event that one or more of its other power sources go offline.

“While shorter cable systems can enjoy the higher availability of power feeding from a single end, longer cables with large fiber-pair counts make this harder to do,” he wrote. “Achieving this record-breaking, highly-resilient design is accomplished by supplying the cable with a voltage 20% higher than with previous systems.”

He added the cable will help provide users with “fast, low-latency access to Google products such as Search, Gmail and YouTube, as well as Google Cloud services.”

Firmina’s route will run from the Mid-Atlantic U.S. to Las Toninas, Argentina, with branches extending to Praia Grande, Brazil, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. Two of the cable’s landing points appear to correspond to existing Google Cloud regions located in Northern Virginia in the U.S. and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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Koley said Firmina brings Google's total tally of subsea cable investments to 16. These include its six private cables – including Junior, Curie, Dunant, Equiano and Grace Hopper – as well as jointly funded cables, such as the Echo cable Facebook announced in March. According to a list from research firm TeleGeography, Google leads in investment in undersea cables, with Facebook in a close second and the likes of Amazon and Microsoft trailing. 

A Google representative told Fierce the company chooses “subsea cable routes based on a variety of factors, including proximity to users, diversity from existing subsea cable paths and routes that provide the lowest latency between various locations.” The representative added deploying its own subsea cables allows it “to plan effectively for the future capacity needs of our customers and users around the world, and add a layer of security beyond what’s available over the public internet.”

Firmina is expected to come into service sometime in 2023, the representative said. For comparison, Google's most recently launched private cable, Dunant, was announced in July 2018 and was ready for service by February 2021. Equiano and Grace Hopper, announced in June 2019 and July 2020 respectively, have yet to go into operation.