Google announced a $1 billion investment in digital connectivity to Japan, which includes the expansion of the Pacific Connect initiative and delivers two new subsea cables, Proa and Taihei as its North Pacific Connect initiative. 

North Pacific Connect
North Pacific Connect initiative, Image courtesy: Google

 

Subsea cables under the North Pacific Connect initiative

The Proa subsea cable will connect Japan, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and Guam and is named after the traditional sailing canoes of the Marianas. To further increase reliability in the region, Google will extend its private Taiwan-Philippines-U.S. (known as TPU) to the CNMI. As the CNMI’s first international subsea cables, Proa and TPU will together establish a new route between the continental U.S. and Shima, Japan.

The Taihei subsea cable will connect Japan to Hawaii. Taihei is a Japanese word for both “peace” and “Pacific Ocean”. Additionally, Google will extend Tabua to Hawaii, building on its South Pacific Connect initiative announced last year to run the cable from the continental U.S. to Fiji and Australia. Once complete, the Taihei and Tabua systems will create a diverse path between the continental U.S. to Takahagi, Japan.

Additionally, Google will also fund the construction of an interlink cable connecting Hawaii, the CNMI, and Guam. This interlink will connect the transpacific routes, improving their reliability and reducing latency for users in the Pacific Islands and around the world.

 

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)

The Northern Mariana Islands, officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), is an unincorporated territory and commonwealth of the United States consisting of 14 islands in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The Northern Mariana Islands, together with Guam to the south, compose the Mariana Archipelago. The CNMI includes the 14 northernmost islands in the Mariana Archipelago; the southernmost island, Guam, is a separate U.S. territory.

The CNMI has a total of 179.01 square miles (463.63 km2). The three main islands of the Southern Islands form the municipalities of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, with uninhabited Aguijan forming part of Tinian municipality. Rota island is located at approximately 60 km northeast to Guam.

The population of the CNMI are approximately 47,329, according to the census in 2020. Saipan, Tinian, and Rota have the only ports and harbors and are the only permanently populated islands.

Partners

Google has selected Japanese NEC to supplied both Proa and Taihei, as well as TPU.

Google partners with KDDI, ARTERIA, Citadel Pacific, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) for the North Pacific Connect initiative, to create new fiber-optic subsea cable routes between the continental U.S. and Japan in support of Google’s Japan Digitization Initiative, while improving the reliability and resilience of digital connectivity between the U.S., Japan, and multiple Pacific Island countries.

Among the parters, Citadel Pacific Ltd. is a diversified private holding company with operations in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau, the Republic of Palau, the CNMI, and the US Territory of Guam. CITADEL is owned by the Delgado family of the Philippines. Citadel Pacific is believed to collaborate with Google for landing services in the CNMI (and possibly in Guam as well).

Japanese ARTERIA Networks Corportation supports Google to provide landing facilities in Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, for the landing of the Taihei subsea cable. Google has landed at the Takahagi cable landing station its Topaz subsea cable connecting Japan and Canada.

KDDI supports Google as the landing partner in Shima, Japan, for the landing of the Proa subsea cable. KDDI has landed FASTER subsea cable at the Shima cable landing station, with Google as a member of the FASTER consortium. Google also landed its Topaz subsea cable in Shima.

 

Google's other transpacific subsea cable projects

So far, Google's Pacific Connect initiative comprises the North Pacific Connect initiative, the Central Pacific Connect initiative and the South Pacific Connect initiative. 

In November 2023, Google announced the South Pacific Connect initiative, which includes two new transpacific subsea cables — Honomoana and Tabua — to connect Fiji and French Polynesia to both the United States and Australia.

In January 2024, Google announced the Central Pacific Connect to build two new intra-Pacific cables — Bulikula and Halaihai —connecting Guam with Fuji and French Polynesia respectively. 

In January 2024, Google partnered with the governments of Chile and French Polynesia to build the Humboldt subsea cable linking Chile, French Polynesia, and Australia — the first ever direct connection between South America and Asia-Pacific.

Central Pacific Connect Initiative
CENTRAL & SOUTH PACIFIC CONNECT INITIATIVES, IMAGE COURTESY: GOOGLE

 

Adding the Topaz subsea cable connecting Japan and Canda, the Echo subsea cable from Singapore to the U.S., and the PLCN from the U.S. to Taiwan and the Philippines and onwards to Hong Kong, Google is working on over a dozen of transpacific subsea cable projects. Google is also a member of Unity and FASTER transpacific subsea cable system.  

 

Subsea cables being part of the geopolitical ties

Google's latest investment of $1 billion to improve digital connectivity between the U.S. and Japan was released on Wednesday amid a visit to the U.S. by the Japanese prime minister to boost the U.S.-Japan Alliance.

In a United States-Japan joint statement on Wednesday April 10, in addtion to others, it said the United States and Japan "continue working together with partner countries to make concrete progress in strengthening the international financial architecture and fostering investment under the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. We are committed to delivering better, bigger, more effective multilateral development banks including through our planned contributions that would enable more than $30 billion in new World Bank lending and securing ambitious International Development Association and Asian Development Fund replenishments. We also emphasize the importance of private sector investment in the Indo-Pacific. We welcome the announcement of Google’s $1 billion investment in digital connectivity for North Pacific Connect, which expands the Pacific Connect Initiative, with NEC, to improve digital communications infrastructure between the United States, Japan and Pacific Island Nations. Building on the U.S.-Australia joint funding commitment for subsea cables last October, the United States and Japan plan to collaborate with like-minded partners to build trusted and more resilient networks and intend to contribute funds to provide subsea cables in the Pacific region, including $16 million towards cable systems for the Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu."

In last September, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) granted Tuvalu Telecom Corporation (TTC) a fund of $3 million for a feasibility study to support the development of the Central Pacific Cable, which has turned out to be Google's Central Pacific Connect initiative. 

The Governments of AustraliaJapan and the United States jointly granted a total fund of $95million to develop the EMCS undersea cable project that will connect the Federated States of Micronesia Kiribati, and Nauru (the EMC Countries). The EMCS project was originally led and funded by the World Bank in associate with the Asian Development Bank and was supposed to be supplied by Chinese HMN Technologies (HMN Tech) which won a bidding for the project in 2020. But the World Bank-led project sank after U.S. warns against Chinese bid.  In June 2023, Australia, Japan and the United States announced the final agreement to fund the $95 million EMCS undersea cable projectsupplied by Japanese NEC.

A report by Reuters unveiled that the US Pentagon funded for around a third of the US$300million Oman Australia Cable (OAC) system to include a clandestine link to the U.S. Navy base on the remote Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The OAC project was considered commercially infeasible.

Conceptual cable routes for Proa, Taihei and interlink cables 

 

Neither Google nor NEC has released the cable route and length for Proa, Taihei and the interlink cables. According to SubmarineNetworks.com, the total cable length of Proa, Taihei and the interlink cables is expected to be approximately 16,000 kilometers. As released by Google, the total cost of the project is US$1 billion. It can be calculated that the unit cost of the cables would be more than US$ 60,000 per kilometer, which seems much higher than that of a commercial subsea cable in the transpacific region.

It is a big money to spend US$1 billion for the Proa and Taihei and interlink cable to hook up Hawaii, Guam, the CNMI and Japan,  although it might be a little money for Google. It is reasonably to suspect that Google's Pacific Connect initiative might be more than commercial purpose.