Subsea Cables: Against All Odds

A CEO’s look at who is behind disruptive models driving scale and success

Subsea cables make our lives better. Trade, Education, Communication, and Security can only truly be realized when a country controls their own subsea cable destiny.

At the beginning of 2020, RTI Cable spent roughly $200 million to successfully complete the Japan-Guam-Australia Cable System (JGA). Twenty years ago, a near identical cable was built for double JGA’s cost. JGA’s initial design between the end points is around 30Tbps (15Tbps per fiber pair), whereas the older initial cable design was around 1Tbps. The bottom line is that JGA was half the cost while delivering 30x the initial design.

Why the big difference in evolving technology and reducing costs? The answer:  E2s made that happen—i.e. Entrepreneurs and Engineers.


E2 is my invented acronym, drawing from the benefits derived when entrepreneurs and engineers collaborate. The union of E2s has other meanings as well: Energy Efficiency and Exceeding Expectations, which aptly describe the results of the combined results powered by entrepreneurs and engineers. When did their unorthodox union begin?

Starting after the dotcom meltdown, the subsea cable industry in particular felt the inefficiencies of Global Crossing, and the fragile economics at its foundation. Many E2s were laid off as a result and that resulted in subsea experts navigating their own path. The subsea cable industry shrank 5x from 1999 to 2008 and only a handful of transoceanic cables were built. During that time, E2s took their intellectual capital to Silicon Valley and other tech-friendly places and improved subsea cable performance. Older companies reinvented themselves. New companies came out of nowhere. Companies where E2s made the biggest inroads, old and new, are: CIENA, CISCO, JUNIPER, Infinera and Arista Networks.

These days, E2s are everywhere—many preferring to work from their homes, local cafes or even their battery-operated cars. From 1999 onwards, the bigger the push from corporations to cut R&D and innovation budgets, the less relevant those companies became. As a result, E2s have become the strongest contributor to the global economy, hastening in digital disruption that improves business and communications. E2s left large corporations, taking their knowledge to start-ups.

Ceremony conducted at one of the Shinto Shrines, Iseyama Kotaijingu in Yokohama, Japan for the safe first voyage of the brand-new cable laying ship KDDI Cable Infinity. Installing the JGA North Cable was the ship’s first operation to complete


E2s have led the disruption. What’s been turned upside down since 2000? Everything, of course. As it relates to subsea cables in the global economy, the difference is striking.

 Employment: The fallacy of cradle-to-grave employment is gone. E2s constantly reinvent themselves.

Job Descriptions: E2s are restless. Many cringe at never-ending administrative demanded by large corporations. They want to build and create, not manage.

Corporate Values: E2s want to work for companies reflecting their own values.

Optimism: Corporations tend to motivate out of fear. However, E2s work from a single mantra: “What problem am I solving?”

Globalization: All of us work cross-culturally these days, those who believe that they are equals to their peers in the  global workforce often have the best of “luck”.


As for RTI, E2s built JGA and they are also responsible for half of the newly operating transpacific cables built in the past eight years. A total of of six trans-Pacific cables came to fruition over the past 7 years, and three by RTI (SEA-US, JGA North, and JGA South). In 2013, RTI set out to complete five cables in seven years, and with 15 people across three continents. Their native tongues include Bahasa, Cantonese, Chamorro, English (American and Australian), Japanese, Mandarin and Shanghainese.

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