Google’s Topaz subsea cable to link Canada and Japan

The submarine cable system will be the first to link Canada directly to Asia, aiming to provide additional capacity for Google services and to a variety of network operators in Japan and Canada.  The cable will be ready for service in 2023.

In August last year, reports were beginning to surface that Canada’s Shaw Communications was building a submarine cable landing station in Port Alberni, on the country’s West coast, despite no new cable systems being formally announced at the time.

It seems that Google was the chairman of this mysterious cable project, announcing the creation of the Topaz system, the first submarine cable set to link Canada directly to Asia. The Topaz cable will take a short hop from Vancouver, Canada, to Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, before travelling West across the Pacific to Japan, where it terminates at the cities of Shima and Takehagi.

In both Port Alberni and Takehagi, landing stations for the cable will need to be built from scratch. Vancouver, on the other hand, having housed the now defunct copper-based Commonwealth Pacific Cable System, built back in 1963, already has a historic landing station available for the project. This facility will be upgraded to meet the needs of the Topaz cable. The final stop, Shima, is already a major hub for submarine cable activity, with three local cable landing stations collectively connecting to around 17 subsea systems.

The Topaz system will comprise 16 fiber pairs with a total capacity of 240 Tbps. It will also make use of Wavelength Selective Switch technology, a software-defined solution that allows greater flexibility when routing traffic on individual fibre pairs.

Google says its intention with the system is not only to allow for low latency access to its own services, like Google Cloud and YouTube, but also to offer capacity for network operators in Canada and Japan.

The company also reportedly intends to swap fiber pair capacity with other submarine cable operators on similar routes, thereby increasing what the company calls “the intercontinental network lattice for network operators”.

Google’s interest and investment in submarine cable projects in recent years cannot be underestimated. The company has announced participation in 20 submarine cable projects, connecting 29 cloud regions, 88 zones, 146 network edge locations across more than 200 countries and territories.

Network infrastructure investments like Topaz bring significant economic activity to the regions where they land. For example, according to a recent Analysys Mason study, Google’s historical and future network infrastructure investments in Japan are forecasted to enable an additional $303 billion (USD) in GDP cumulatively between 2022 and 2026.

The width of a garden hose, the Topaz cable will house 16 fiber pairs, for a total capacity of 240 Terabits per second (not to be confused with TSPs). It includes support for Wavelength Selective Switch (WSS), an efficient and software-defined way to carve up the spectrum on an optical fiber pair for flexibility in routing and advanced resilience. We’re proud to bring WSS to Topaz and to see the technology is being implemented widely across the submarine cable industry.

While Topaz is the first trans-Pacific fiber cable to land on the West Coast of Canada, it’s not the first communication cable to connect to Vancouver Island. In the 1960s, the Commonwealth Pacific Cable System (COMPAC) was a copper undersea cable linking Vancouver with Honolulu (United States), Sydney (Australia), and Auckland (New Zealand), expanding high-quality international phone connectivity. Today, COMPAC is no longer in service but its legacy lives on. The original cable landing station in Vancouver — the facility where COMPAC made landfall on Canadian soil — has been upgraded to fit the needs of modern fiber optics and will house the eastern end of the Topaz cable.

Traditional and treaty rights, and local communities, are deeply important to our infrastructure projects. The Topaz cable is built alongside the traditional territories of the Hupacasath, Maa-nulth, and Tseshaht, and we have consulted with and partnered with these First Nations every step of the way.

“Tseshaht is very proud of this collaboration and our partnership with Google, who has been very respectful and thoughtful in its engagement with our Nation. That’s how we carry ourselves and that’s how we want business to carry themselves in our territory.“ — Tseshaht First Nation – Elected Chief Councillor-Ken Watts 

“The five First Nations of the Maa-nulth Treaty Society are pleased that we have concluded an agreement with Google Canada and have consented to the installation of a new, high-speed fiber optic cable through our traditional territories. This agreement, in which both Google Canada and our Nations benefit, is based on respect for our constitutionally protected treaty and aboriginal rights and enhances the process of reconciliation. We would also like to acknowledge the sensitivity that Google Canada expressed during our talks in regard to the pain and trauma experienced by our people as a result of residential school experience. We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Google Canada.” —Chief Charlie Cootes, President of the Maa-nulth Treaty Society

“Google’s respect towards our Nation is appreciated and has good energy behind it.” —Hupacasath First Nation – Elected Chief Councilor – Brandy Lauder 

With the addition of Topaz, Google has announced investments in 20 subsea cable projects. This includes Curie, Dunant, Equiano, Firmina and Grace Hopper, and consortium cables like Blue, Echo, Havfrue and Raman — all connecting 29 cloud regions, 88 zones, 146 network edge locations across more than 200 countries and territories. Learn about Google Cloud’s network and infrastructure on our website and in the below video.