Forgotten fiber-optic cable awaits resuscitation by investors

  • 2004-08-05
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - A high-speed fiber optic cable dragged across the bottom of the Baltic Sea from Stockholm to Gotland and then abandoned off the coast of Ventspils in 2002 has recently been connected and may soon be activated, a development which would give the coastal city the largest capacity cable in all of Latvia.

The cable was initially brought to Latvia as part of an ambitious plan to provide a fast connection for data transfer, with the idea of eventually adding Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to the network. However, shortly after bringing the cable across the Baltic Sea, the company charged with connecting it from Gotland to Ventspils ran out of working capital.
As a result, the cable has lain unused, under water, for two years.
Now that the cable has been re-attached with the help of new investors, Dutch Sea Cable VB from the Netherlands and the Latvian telecommunications company Baltkom (each owns half of the cable from Gotland to Ventspils), a new deal must be signed with Stokab, the Swedish company that controls the cable from Gotland to Sweden, before the cable can be operational.
The fiber optic cable was designed by Corning Incorporated, an international leader in fiber optics, and represented the first major deployment of the new fiber optic technology in Europe.
"It's the largest fiber optic cable in terms of capacity," Viesturs Sterns, chief financial officer for Baltkom, says.
"The fiber optic cable will provide a very fast, cheap and good communication network for data, telecom, videos and films," Staffan Lundgren, managing director of Stokab, the company that stretched the cable to Gotland, says.
"We are just waiting for the new owners to begin discussions again, which may be as early as this month," he adds.
Once operational, the fiber optic line will also have a number of spillover effects. Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology, which reportedly has a partnership agreement with Ventspils University, is prepared to provide data transfer, as well as video conferencing, between the two universities.
"We have an agreement with the Royal Technical University of Sweden to use a part of the line for joint work," Gints Neimanis, systems administrator for Ventspils University, says.
"We are just waiting for the contracts to be completed between the other parties," he adds.
But ambitious plans are on the horizon. The fiber optic cable could eventually be extended all the way to Riga and could provide the beginning of a counterbalance to Lattelekom, the state-controlled telecommunication company.
"We still have a monopoly situation in Latvia, and this [cable] will be one more step in terms of market liberalization," Sterns stresses.
While negotiations are ongoing, Baltkom hopes that the services will be offered by the end of this year or by the beginning of next. Sterns says that speed was merely contingent on the equipment available on the Latvian side, and that the line could be used for any kind of data transfer.
Fiber optic lines are much faster than the coper wires currently used to conduit much of Latvia digital traffic.
Although Latvian cable television companies have been investing in a fiber optic backbone that would span the entire country, the difference with this particular line is the size.