Asia's fastest data cable links Tokyo to Singapore

Map of ASE cable route The route for the new cable avoids Taiwan, where earthquakes are common

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A new high-speed undersea data cable has opened to traffic in Asia.

The 7,800km Asia Submarine-cable Express (ASE) connects Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

It transfers data via an optical fibre system at 40 gigabits per second, and is three milliseconds faster than any other cable between Singapore and Tokyo.

The gain in speed may sound small, but could prove critical to financial trades made out of the region.

So-called "high frequency trades", controlled by computers, involve making what may be hundreds of thousands of transactions in less than a second - all determined by a program that tracks market conditions.

With banks and hedge funds competing against each other, the size of the profit or loss can come down to a matter of beating the competition by a fraction of a second, explained Ralph Silva, a strategist at Silva Research Network.

"High frequency trading is basically computer trading - you program a set of rules and as events happen - the computer decides buy or sell commands," he said.

"As all incoming data is received by all banks at the same time, and because the computers are all the same with the same speed of processors, the length of time the command takes to get to the exchange makes a big difference.

"So if all banks come to the same trading decision at the same time, the one to get the transaction to the master computer first wins.

"Three milliseconds in computer time is an hour in human time."

The route for the new cable was chosen to be as straight as possible, reducing the time to get information from one end to the other to 65 milliseconds.

The data transfer capacity of 40Gbps is the equivalent of downloading a high-resolution DVD in about two seconds.

Avoiding trouble areas

The new facility adds to a web of undersea cables in the waters around Japan.

Whirlpool, Japan Many undersea cables were damaged by a powerful earthquake that hit Japan in March 2011

These include ones run by Australian operator Telstra International; Taiwan's largest phone operator Chunghwa Telecom; and the global telecommunications service provider Pacnet, based in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Many were damaged by a powerful earthquake near Japan's northeast coast in March 2011.

An earlier earthquake in December 2006, off the south-west coast of Taiwan, also broke several cables, disrupting telecommunications in Asian countries.

The problems helped influence where the new cable was laid, said Japan's biggest telecommunications provider.

"We avoided the area around Taiwan, where earthquakes are common, and laid the route near the Philippines instead, making the cable very safe and reliable," said Hiroyuki Matsumoto, senior director of network services at NTT, one of the four partners involved in the project.

After 2011's earthquake and tsunami his firm reported that half a million telephone circuits and about 150,000 internet circuits went down in Japan because of subsea cable damage.

To repair the cable network, telecoms operators had to send out ships equipped with remotely controlled robots, able to dive to a depth of 2,500m (8,200ft).

The other companies involved in the project are PLDT, the Philippines' main telecom company; StarHub, the second-largest mobile phone operator in Singapore; and Telekom Malaysia.

PLDT said that the venture was the first direct cable connection between the Philippines and Japan, and "the largest-capacity international submarine cable system ever to land in the Philippines".

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