Map of the cable landing stations in the arctic

Quintillion: Building a Subsea Cable System in the US Arctic

Building a fiber optic cable network in the Alaskan Arctic requires immense expertise and ingenuity. Quintillion is the first and only telecommunications company to have accomplished this feat with its 1200-mile subsea system that was constructed in 2016. To build this system, Quintillion had to face many challenges unique to the Arctic environment.

Environmental Challenges

Sub-zero temperatures, permafrost, fast ice, and coastal erosion make the Alaska Arctic a difficult terrain to work in. The Alaska tundra fluctuates between marshy and frozen land, so Quintillion and its partners had to plan ahead and identify the best time to move equipment and start construction.

Permafrost and sea ice can shift and make traditional methods of trenching impossible. Additionally, saltwater intrusion and coastal erosion can damage cable landings. Quintillion partners used unique drilling methods and took special protection precautions to build a system resilient enough to withstand these factors.

Horizontal Directional Drilling

Quintillion partners used horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to help mitigate many of the challenges they faced in building an Arctic subsea fiber optic cable system. Typically, to lay cables, technicians would dig a trench. With HDD, a drill is used to bore a horizontal path underground where the cables are placed. To protect the HDD pipes from freezing, the pipes were sealed and protected during the installation process.

System Grounding

Quintillion had to utilize special grounding techniques as unpredictable soil conductivity made burying ground anodes impossible. Instead, Quintillion utilized offshore system earths. Additionally, the latitude of the Quintillion subsea system needed to accommodate strong geomagnetic currents – requiring power feed equipment capable of accommodating these currents.

Modular Cable Landing Stations

The cable landing stations buildings were modular and built on a raised foundation, and the buildings are adequately heated – with standby power – due to freezing temperatures outside. The modular design of these CLS made it easier to transport and build the structures.

Read More About The Quintillion Subsea System