Google, through its wholly-owned subsidiary GU Holdings Inc, has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a license to construct, land, and operate its previously announced Firmina cable system, a subsea fiber-optic cable connecting Myrtle Beach in the United States with Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. In order to land Firmina in these different geographies, Google intends to use new and existing cable landing stations of DC BLOX, Telxius (Telefónica and Pontegadea), ANTEL, and Lumen Technologies.
Importantly, Firmina is 100%-owned by Google, with the company stating that the cable’s capacity will either be used by Google to meet its own internal needs for bandwidth or made available to third parties via indefeasible rights of use (IRUs) and capacity leases.
Firmina Subsea Cable – Overview
Google’s Firmina subsea cable will span 9,020 miles (14,517 kilometers) and targets commencing commercial operation of the U.S. endpoint of the cable system in December 2023. The system will comprise a main trunk and the following branching units:
- Main Trunk: length of 8,334 miles (13,413 kilometers), consisting of 16 fiber pairs, from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to Las Toninas, Argentina – a town located ~160 miles south of Buenos Aires
- Brazil – Branching Unit on Main Trunk: connecting branch to Praia Grande, Brazil (state of São Paulo), will have a total length of 360 miles (580 kilometers) and consist of 24 fiber pairs
- Uruguay – Branching Unit on Main Trunk: connecting branch to Punta del Este, Uruguay, will have a total length of 326 miles (524 kilometers) and consist of 12 fiber pairs
Notably, the portion of the main trunk between the branching unit for the branch to Praia Grande, Brazil, and the branching unit with the stubbed branch pointing towards Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic (see below) will consist of only 12 fiber pairs.
Each fiber pair will have a total design capacity of ~15 terabits per second (Tbps), equivalent to a total of ~240 Tbps for the system as a whole.
Google states that it does not presently have specific plans to build-out Firmina’s two stubbed branches, which are:
- Branching Unit with a Stubbed Branch: pointing towards Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic and located on the high seas, this branching unit will consist of 12 fiber pairs
- Branching Unit with a Stubbed Branch: pointing towards Fortaleza, Brazil and located in Brazil’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), this branching unit will consist of 16 fiber pairs
Google’s Rationale for Building the Firmina Subsea Cable
The Firmina subsea cable system will provide capacity to connect Google’s data centers and points-of-presence (PoPs) in the United States and South America. Specifically, the Firmina subsea cable will provide significant new and replacement capacity on the United States-to-Brazil route. Indeed, Firmina will augment existing subsea cables that currently serve the United States-to-Brazil route, including BRUSA, GlobeNet, Monet, Seabras-1, South America-1 (SAm-1), South American Crossing (SAC), and AMX-1.
Also, the Firmina subsea cable will be the first U.S. system with a direct landing in Uruguay and one of the few subsea cables connecting the United States with Argentina – beyond GlobeNet (via Malbec), SAm-1, and SAC.
Overall, the Firmina subsea cable will further strengthen the redundancy and resilience of telecommunications between the United States and South America.
Demand for the services of Google and those of its parent company, Alphabet Inc, which include Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Photos, Google Play, Search, YouTube, and Google Cloud, are all fueling the need for new subsea cables like Firmina.
To this end, Google Cloud has existing or is potentially opening new cloud regions and availability zones in the following markets where the Firmina subsea cable will land:
- United States: South Carolina cloud region, known as us-east1, has 3 availability zones and was launched in 2015. In the city of Goose Creek, part of Berkeley County, South Carolina, Google has invested over $2.4bn in constructing and expanding its data center campus
- Brazil: São Paulo cloud region, known as southamerica-east1, has 3 availability zones and was launched in 2017
- Uruguay: in 2021, Google reportedly purchased 74 acres of land in the Pando Science and Technology Park (PCTP), which is situated ~17.5 miles outside of Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city. At this site, Google is reportedly planning to invest ~$100m USD to pursue a data center development project, as part of a new cloud region
Cable Landing Stations – Firmina Subsea Cable
The cable landing stations for the Firmina subsea cable system will be located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Praia Grande, Brazil; Punta del Este, Uruguay; and Las Toninas, Argentina. Particularly, the cable landing stations are owned and controlled by companies and organizations including DC BLOX, Telxius (Telefónica and Pontegadea), ANTEL, and Lumen Technologies.
With these cable landing station owners, Google will enter into a long-term lease or an indefeasible right of use (IRU). Under any lease or IRU, Google, as the landing party, will control access to the cable landing station space, which houses Firmina’s equipment.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – DC BLOX
DC BLOX, a data center provider focused on the southeastern United States, will construct a new cable landing station in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with Google being the landing party. Furthermore, Google will utilize DC BLOX’s separately caged colocation space in the cable landing station, as well as its operation & maintenance (O&M) services.
Google specifies that DC BLOX will provide the following O&M services for Firmina at the cable landing station in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:
- Site security and access control
- Telecommunications equipment climate control, alarm monitoring, testing, and troubleshooting
- Spare equipment storage and inventory tracking
- Periodic monitoring of the fronthaul – from the cable landing station to beach manhole
- Billing and site administration
Google’s agreement with DC BLOX will have an initial term of 15 years that could be extended by Google to 25 years.
DC BLOX’s Data Center and Fiber Investments for Firmina
In May 2022, DC BLOX announced that it was planning to invest an initial $31.5m to build Firmina’s new, 40.8k sqft cable landing station on Howard Avenue, at the International Technology and Aerospace Park (ITAP) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
DC BLOX’s cable landing station will offer power generation configurations of up to 15 megawatts of AC power. Additionally, the facility will be connected to five bore pipes, enabling up to five subsea cables to enter. In terms of timing, DC BLOX plans for its new cable landing station to be completed in Q2 2023.
Subsequently, the following week, DC BLOX revealed that it had acquired a nearly 500-mile, long-haul dark fiber route connecting South Carolina to Georgia that is currently under development and is planned to be completed in 2023. More specifically, the long-haul dark fiber route will traverse from DC BLOX’s Myrtle Beach, South Carolina cable landing station through Charleston (South Carolina), Augusta (Georgia), and downtown Atlanta’s major connectivity centers, terminating in Lithia Springs, Georgia.
Evidently, Google operates a large data center campus located at 300 Riverside Parkway in Lithia Springs, Georgia, which is situated in northeastern Douglas County. Cumulatively, at this data center campus, Google has invested more than $1.2bn over the past two decades.
Finally, regarding financing for its data center and fiber investments, DC BLOX is supported by Post Road Group, Bain Capital Credit, and Ascendant Capital Partners.
Praia Grande, Brazil – Telxius
Telxius Telecom, a provider of subsea cable infrastructure in Europe and the Americas, owns an existing cable landing station in Praia Grande, Brazil, with Google being the landing party. More specifically, Telxius states that its cable landing station is in the city of Santos, Brazil, which is next to the municipality of Praia Grande.
Presently, subsea cables including Junior, Malbec, Monet, Seabras-1, South America-1 (SAm-1), South American Crossing (SAC), and Tannat all land at Santos/Praia Grande. Of these subsea cables, Google is an owner in the Junior, Monet, and Tannat systems.
Overall, Telxius is controlled by Telefónica with a 70% ownership stake and Pontegadea, the family office of the Ortega family, with a 30% ownership interest.
Punta del Este, Uruguay – ANTEL
ANTEL (Administración Nacional de Telecomunicaciones), Uruguay’s government-owned telecommunications company, will build a new cable landing station in Punta del Este, Uruguay, with Google being the landing party. Notably, Google is already a co-owner of existing subsea cables alongside ANTEL, namely Monet and Tannat.
Las Toninas, Argentina – Lumen Technologies
Lumen Technologies (NYSE: LUMN), through its subsidiary CenturyLink Argentina S.A., owns an existing cable landing station in Las Toninas, Argentina, with Google being the landing party. Also, from Las Toninas, terrestrial systems connect onwards to major markets including Buenos Aires, Rosario, Córdoba, Mendoza, Santiago, and Valparaiso.