Catalysts for content: terrestrial and subsea cables provide the foundation for the development of a digitalised world

By Brendan Press, CCO at Gulf Bridge International (GBI).

  • Tuesday, 4th April 2023 Posted 1 year ago in by Phil Alsop

In many ways, global society sleepwalked into the digital age without notice. From the way we work, to how we communicate and spend our free time, our reliance on data is ever-increasing. However, we often take for granted the complex technological networks underpinning every click.

Nobody knows this better than over-the-top (OTT) service providers, including the likes of Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Meta, and Amazon, who allow us to access streaming and downloaded content through internet-connected devices.

But as we consume more, we also expect higher speed, uninterrupted connections. To meet these growing demands, OTT providers must strategically consider infrastructure, and the critical role of data centres and global connectivity cables as the missing pieces in the puzzle.

Over-the-top and under pressure

OTT providers occupy a central role in the ongoing transformation of digital communications. As the demand for online streaming services continues to rise, these providers are at the forefront of meeting the ever-increasing expectations of consumers. However, with this comes a tremendous amount of responsibility.

One of the main challenges faced by OTT providers is the exponential increase in demand for data – demand for international bandwidth is nearly doubling every two years. With more people streaming video content than ever before, the amount of data being consumed is growing at a rapid pace.

This is especially true during major events such as the FIFA World Cup, which consistently leads to a surge in streaming and media consumption. For instance, during the opening game of the tournament viewership of the event increased by 109% when compared to the previous two tournaments. These demand surges place unprecedented pressure on content providers, forcing them to increase capacity to meet the needs of end users across the world.

However, such pressures go far beyond just data quantity. Modern consumers are increasingly tech-savvy, looking for a hyper-personalised experience when using online services. Not only do they expect their connection to be delivered at high speed, but consumers rely on smooth, uninterrupted connections guaranteed by low latency rates.

To remain competitive, content providers must continually invest in their infrastructure to maximise both the efficiency and reach of their services – of which the size, quantity, and location of their data centres is highly important.

Powering the content revolution

Data centre facilities are responsible for storing, processing, and delivering massive amounts of data across the globe. And, as the OTT media landscape diversifies in line with global trends, data centres have become an integral player in the telecommunications industry over the last several years. This is only predicted to grow – according to research from Gartner, data centre expenditures were up 11.4 per cent in 2022, totalling $226 billion.

A significant factor in this growth is global investments in new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), the Metaverse and artificial intelligence (AI). Such technologies operate best on low-latency connections, which can only be enabled by the availability of data centres located close-by.

For this reason, businesses are now choosing data centre operators with a diversity of offerings best suited to their market-specific needs.

Evolving global media trends have prompted significant advancements in data centre technology, allowing them to be rolled out closer than ever to the end user. As a result, OTT providers can no longer overlook the competitive advantage offered by data centres.

Equally, variations in demands for data intensity has led to a variety of cloud-based and edge-enabled offerings which, in each case, generates greater demand for these services.

Connection below the surface

As OTT providers seek to gain a competitive edge by closely collaborating with data centres, it's important to note that these centres are intimately linked to the global network of connectivity cables. These cables traverse vast distances (approximately 1.4 million kilometres) across continents, serving as the backbone of our interconnected world and supporting the digitalisation of societies worldwide.

In addition to enabling global connectivity, such networks also add a vital layer of redundancy to the content ecosystem. This redundancy provides data centres – and the content they hold – with multiple pathways for traffic, ensuring that data processing remain operational even in the event of an outage of one route. In a sector dependent on constant movement of and access to information, OTTs increasingly see the importance of last line of assurance, working with operators offering redundancy tailored to their specific needs.

With their ability to safeguard against disruptions, subsea cables are a critical component in maintaining the stability and resilience of our interconnected world. For OTT players and data centres, they form the bedrock of unlocking the next generation of global content creation.

The data triumvirate

Data demands will continue to rise, resulting in the increasing presence of OTTs. In turn, this will generate the need for data centres, especially in regions currently undergoing digital transformation on a massive scale. The future of cable investment and innovation therefore looks ripe, with each player in the carrier industry dependent on the other.

And with the current hype surrounding emerging technologies such as AI, OTTs will face mounting pressures to drive down the latency of their services, advancing their competitive offering even in the most developed markets. For this reason, we will also see a lateral trend, with cable networks and data centres operating at the edge – providing the glue which hold the data ecosystem together.