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Undersea Cable Brings NT’s Major Digital Tech Hub Vision Closer

by Cameron Sinclair •
Free resource

Plans to develop Darwin as a major data and digital technology hub, that can attract state of the art hyperscale cloud facilities and edge data centres to the NT have been dependent on an undersea cable link.

The link now looks set to be a reality by mid-2023.   

Vocus announced on 16 August that it will lay 1,000km of submarine cable off the coast of Port Hedland to provide an advanced fibre optic connection linking Darwin to Singapore..

The announcement coincides with the completion of the “Terabit Territory” project, which has upgraded the Darwin urban fibre optic network over the past 18 months.

With a small population (136,000 at the 2016 census), Darwin already had some of the fastest broadband speeds in Australia and is the only capital city with full FTTP connection to all premises in the CBD and surrounding suburbs.

The NT Government is promoting the region as a data hub that can serve a range of industries.

State of the art cable connectivity was one of three components in the NT government's pitch to prospectiveData Centre builders/ owners.  The government expect such data centres “will contribute to delivering the Territory’s vision of becoming Northern Australia’s most advanced digital economy and Australia’s digital gateway to Asia and beyond.” The other two components are available land and reliable power (including both solar and gas).

In addition to established energy, mining, and agriculture sectors, Darwin is the epicentre for Australia’s northern defence and border force. The NT also has an emerging space industry, with NASA signing contracts to launch rockets from the Arnhem Space Centre.

The NT government announced the launch of a Joint Cyber Security Service (JCSS) hub in partnership with the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) in June 2021.

In February 2020, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced a contribution of $7.9 million towards the cost of upgrading capacity on the Vocus domestic fibre network from 400 Gbps (gigabits per second) to 20 Tbps (terabits per second).

Vocus also spent $10 million to replace the Territory’s 10 Gbps overland connections to SA and Queensland with 200 Gbps technology.

While the requisite infrastructure to allow northern Australia to become a flourishing data and digital hub appears to be on track, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has data sovereignty concerns.  APSI also sees a need for “more nuanced legislative framing” to support the NT’s plans to position itself as a regional data centre. 

Vocus’ $100 million undersea project is the final piece of the Darwin-Jakarta-Singapore Cable (DJSC), which will connect two existing submarine cables owned by Vocus: the  2,100km North-West Cable System (NWCS) between Darwin and Port Hedland and the; 4,600km Australia-Singapore Cable (ASC) between Perth and Singapore. 

Vocus’ survey work will begin in September in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Port Hedland, with cable manufacture expected to start in November, installation to commence in 2022, and the whole system to be operational by mid-2023.

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