Fiber to the South Pole?

December 6th, 2010 by · 10 Comments

SubtelForum reports that WFN Strategies has won a subcontract from ARINC for continued development of a terrestrial broadband network between McMurdo Station and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which sits, as its name suggests, directly on the geographical south pole.  Specifically, the plans are for a broadband link following a recently developed 1600km overland traverse.  They didn’t say so explicitly, but I think they mean the one pictured to the left here, which points to a wikipedia image.

They’re not saying just how they’re going to get there yet, but it sounds like a hybrid since both microwave path designs and the behavior of cable systems in moving ice are on the research menu.  I find it difficult to imagine burying fiber in a moving ice sheet (can you imagine repairing the fiber cuts?), so I’m guessing that in the end it will all be microwave.  They’d be sticking to the road to build each link along the way because, well, they do have to maintain it and who would trust a network tech with a helicopter? (Just kidding guys!)  But what do i know?  Perhaps microwave just won’t move enough bits or something…

A few years ago, I spent a post teasing Global Crossing for linking up Antarctica before working on more populated continents, though that was at Jubany base out on the Antarctic peninsula.  But with scientific data collection now driving substantial amounts of data elsewhere, perhaps there is more to lighting up the frozen continent than I had thought.  I would still love to get the story from a truck roll down there.

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Categories: Fiber optic cable · Wireless

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10 Comments So Far

  • Doug Mohney says:

    You could sensor/monitor the fiber (assuming it will operate in those temps) for movement of the ice/strata it is on…

  • Ted K. says:

    My apologies for an incomplete post. Jubany Base (Arg.) is on an island (link above) in the South Shetland Islands, near the Antarctic Peninsula.

    I wonder if cable creep due to ice plasticity might keep a fiber-optic cable unbroken.

  • Dan says:

    I wouldn’t want to do fiber in the ice. (I work as a tech in the long-distance industry.) However, aerial fiber might be a good solution. As long as there was enough slack between poles, it should hold up fairly well.

    The problem with microwave is that it bounces severely in conditions where heavy moisture is in the air, such as rain, fog, and snow. I’ve seen what that does to data transmission links, and it’s a nightmare.

    • Rob Powell says:

      Hmmm, aerial fiber… On the upside, no trees. On the downside, a whole lot of snow, ice, and those nasty katabatic winds as you approach the coast. Those better be strong cables.

    • Clevus says:

      Moisture in the air is not generally the problem in Antarctica, precip rates there are very low. For microwave, I would assume that the biggest problem there is with electromagnetic interference associated with the solar wind and its interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field at the magnetic poles. I would also think that a fiber link could have its own problems. Burying it has its own issues and aerial doesn’t seem that much better. Prevailing wind speeds would make it difficult to route. Also in that harsh environment, for about 6 months a year the plant would be almost completely inaccessible. One other thing that I have seen reports on is a degradation of the light carrying ability of at least some fibers in colder temperatures. Seems to me is was a failure of the cladding on the fiber itself. But that could be an addressable issue with changes/improvements in the fiber manufacture

      • the_wanderer says:

        Sounds like you’ve been down there. Have you?

        • Clevus says:

          Unfortunately not, I just have had a number of conversations with some friends that have wintered over.

          • Clevus says:

            As a further aside, based on my conversations, currently at the pole station, they get access to the internet only a few hours a day via satellite. It is a little difficult to park a geosynchronous satellite so that it is constantly in view of the poles

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