American Samoa set to BLAST through the digital glass ceiling

(New Zealand, 28 March 2018) - Six years after substantive work began on the U.S. Federally funded Fiber to the Home (FTTH) project in American Samoa, named the Broadband Linking the American Samoa Territory or BLAST project, the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) is preparing to land a spur from the transpacific Hawaiki Submarine cable in the middle part of 2018 in order to supply the Authority with 200 Gbps of Internet capacity.

Prior to 2018 only 30%-35% of homes in the territory had a fixed broadband Internet connection, compared to over 88% of households in the United States. With sufficient capacity to fulfill and drive demand, this number is expected to grow as more households adopt the Internet for more everyday tasks such as home and family security, medical monitoring, education, and most especially entertainment. American Samoa will finally have the capacity to eventually match the national average for household broadband penetration. It already has the FTTH network with which to do so. (It is important to note that “broadband” Internet accounts in American Samoa currently varies between 768 kbps and 10 Mbps, and generally does not meet the U.S. mainland standard for broadband. Throughputs are severely constrained by lack of international capacity, further degrading connectivity in the remote U.S. territory.)

In Part 3 of this series I had assumed that the standard formula for purchasing capacity, at the scale of the island territory’s small size and population, would apply and that the initial active capacity purchase for the cable operator would be on the order of 10 Gbps. That assumption; however, was not wholly correct. ASTCA has since reached out to me to let me know that the ambitious territorial Authority, which also operates a ubiquitous FTTH network, and who will soon be launching their own 4G LTE network (according to a recent FCC filing), has partnered and committed together with Hawaiki Cable to provision, at the outset, the entire 200 Gbps of capacity as active capacity, ready for use and sale. This should be sweet music to the ears of the Samoa-American Samoa cable operator, ASH Cable LLC., which stands to benefit from the use of their inter-island cable by carriers and operators in Independent Samoa to access some of that capacity. A bold move by the Authority as it makes its bid to attract the interest from carriers in Independent Samoa, but also to catch the eye of the governments of the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Niue, all of whom have signed on or expressed interest with the Manatua cable project, based in Samoa. The Manatua project aims to connect those islands either for the first time, or for additional capacity, via Independent Samoa. The Manatua project is headed by the principles and team at the Samoa Submarine Cable Company (SSCC), which operates the Tui Samoa Cable that connects Samoa to the Southern Cross transpacific submarine fiber network via Fiji. Tui Samoa Cable started serving customers in Samoa earlier this year (2018).

Data engineers reading this article will be trying to scratch an invisible itch at this point because such a massive increase in supplied capacity will have ramifications across the network in regards to the required re-dimensioning of every network element from the network edge to the subscriber’s terminal. These upgrades will be a significant undertaking for the Authority as it prepares for the upcoming infusion of capacity

As of 2016 the maximum designed carrying capacity of ASTCA’s core network was 40 Gbps, and if upgraded to 100G transport that max carrying capacity would increase to 400 Gbps, sufficient to handle the new capacity. On the other hand, the most expensive and difficult upgrades will be to the access and distribution, routing and switching fabric, most of which will need to be replaced and upgraded to handle at least 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps per path. Even without the upgrades the improvement would be overwhelmingly positive, if ultimately wasteful, as congested network elements may interfere with the smooth flow of Internet traffic across the local network.

We reached out to ASTCA CEO, Puleleiite Tufele Lia Jr., to provide some clarity for our readers as to the current status of ASTCA’s upgrades and network preparations in advance of the Hawaiki cable landing, and he set aside some time to bring us up to date on progress at the Authority. He explained that ASTCA has just completed, this past month, the upgrade of their core network from 10 Gbps to 100 Gbps. As, we noted previously, the figure eight configuration of their core network quadruples the core carrying capacity due to the multiple paths in each ring, bringing the carrying capacity of ASTCA’s core network to a whopping 400 Gbps. In a positive and pro-active move, ASTCA is also currently upgrading the routing and switching fabric for the access’ and distribution’ portion of their network. The access and distribution network elements are largely responsible for what the customer ultimately experiences, and this proactive approach bodes well for ASTCA’s customers.

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