AU Cable Types and Uses
Double Armor - Beach to 650
ft. depth, heavy surf zones and reefs
Light Wire Armor - 650 to 5,000 ft. depth, light surf
Special Protection Application - 5,000 to 8,000 ft. depth, at branching
units and deep water chafing areas
Light Weight Armor - Greater than 5,000 ft. depth in benign areas
AU-East Route Survey Completed
AU-East/North Supply Contract Signed
AU-North Route Survey Completed
AU-North Completed and Operational
AU-East System Completed and Operational
AU-West Route Survey Completed
AU-West Supply Contract Signed
AU-West Completed and Operational
AU-West Segment 3, Ketchikan to BU Completed and Operational
SEAFAST Completed and Operational
When Alaska United-East came on line the fiber optic capacity out of the State
immediately was multiply five times. With the addition of AU-West and AU-East
upgrade the capacity has been increased approximately 22 times the capacity
prior to the Alaska United Fiber System. Further capacity gains can now be made
by adding shore-based electronic equipment to allow total capacity of AU-West
of 640 Gbs and AU-East of 110 Gbs. This is enough to carry 82.5 and 14.2
million simultaneous voice or data calls on the respective segments of the
Alaska United Network.
Fiber optics is the preferred method of carrying voice, video and data
communications. It allows for optimization of transmission equipment because of
its lack of delay found in satellite connections. Its superior information
carrying capacity enables the deployment of bandwidth hungry applications.
Fiber optic cables also are totally insensitive to electromagnetic interference
and offer a secure link because of their immunity to eavesdropping.
For residential users, applications like high-speed Internet and ISDN which
support PC-video conferencing for home or office are now possible. Enhanced
video services like movies-on-demand and distance education are likewise
possible. In addition, Alaska United will eventually enhance GCI's cable
television services by creating the capacity necessary to offer Alaska
programming, rather than lower 48 satellite feeds.
For business users, new technologies like ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) and
PRI-ISDN will, for the first time, allow businesses to access large capacities
of bandwidth as needed.
For government, education and military users, broadband applications with
security, equipment redundancy and route diversity can be achieved for the
Even users who don't live in an area served directly by Alaska United will
realize benefits. Alaska United will allow GCI and other carriers to use
satellite capacity more efficiently. More available satellite capacity allows
the network to deliver broadband applications to smaller communities more
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Alaska United and how is it organized?
Alaska United Fiber System (AU-North and AU-East) is a partnership of two
wholly-owned subsidiaries of GCI. It was the state's first fiber optic network
to connect the largest population centers of Alaska. Alaska United Fiber System
utilizes undersea and terrestrial connections to extend high capacity fiber
optics to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Whittier and Valdez.
Alaska United West is an asset purchased and operated by GCI Communication
Corp. Although the entire Alaska United Network is operated seamlessly under
GCI control there are distinct business organization differences.
Alaska United is the communications equivalent of an Interstate highway system.
It will enable the deployment of new, bandwidth hungry communication
applications such as faster Internet, ISDN, video conferencing, telemedicine
and distance education.
Alaska United, when combined with GCI's previous investments in Alaska tailored
satellite capacity (Galaxy IX, Galaxy Xr, Galaxy XVIII), will provide
unparalleled communication coverage throughout the state.
Why build this cable now?
Customers in Alaska are already starved for bandwidth capacity, and that demand
is expected to grow sharply in the coming years. This bandwidth crunch
potentially restricts the deployment of new communication services and the
development and diversification of the state's economy. In addition, AU-West
construction was completed during a period of low submarine cable supply demand
allowing GCI to deploy the system with the industries top resources on hand.
What fiber connectivity existed in Alaska prior to Alaska United North
Pacific Cable (NPC) terminates in Seward with a terrestrial fiber that connects
to Anchorage. NPC had a total capacity of nine DS-3 (420 Mb/s) or approximately
6,048 clear channel voice/data circuits. NPC Alaskan Spur is currently not in
service. There was no fiber to Juneau, and had been none to Fairbanks.
What are the capacities of this new cable?
At start-up in 1999, AU-East capacity was a minimum of OC-48 = 32,256
voice/data circuits at 2.5 GB/s. As demand has increased, capacity is being
upgraded to allow multiple OC-192 = 129,024 voice/data circuits at 10 GB/s.
Capacity is upgraded by adding optical electronics at the shore station--no
"wet plant" work is required.
AU-West was installed at OC-192 level with a commercial design capacity of 640
GB/s or 82.5 million voice/data circuits.
AU-North is currently operating at multiple OC-48 or 2.5 GB/s level. The
capacity of the AU-North segment can be increase either by the utilization of
unused dark fibers or through adding additional wavelengths to the current
fibers in use.
What is the route? How was it selected?
The marine routing of the three segments of the Alaska United Network where
carefully chosen to provide the safest routing of the cable with least conflict
with historical uses of the seafloor. Initial route planning was conducted as a
desktop study that included information gathered from local fishermen, pilots,
USCG, Harbormasters, and permit agencies. Drawing on the results of a desktop
study, a marine survey was conducted for GCI by FSSI on each segment. The
system supplier's then engineered the final cable route. In several cases the
route was further adjusted due to additional input from fishermen, permit
agencies and conditions encountered during the installation. The route designed
included the avoidance of areas known for heavy bottom fishing. Inland
extensions to Juneau, Anchorage, Ketchikan, and Seattle will be configured
in a physically diverse SONET ring to afford maximum protection against outage.
What are the vitals of Alaska United?
LENGTH--Alaska United network is a total of 5,970 statute miles of which 4,988
miles is subsea and 982 miles are overland. Seattle to branching unit is 1276
miles. Branching unit to Juneau is 509 miles. Branching unit to Whittier is 860
miles. Whittier to Valdez is 95 miles. Warrenton, OR to Seward is 1494 miles.
Ketchikan to BU is 372 miles. The SEAFAST system is 382 miles. Valdez to
Fairbanks is an estimated 284 miles. Anchorage to Fairbanks is 345 miles.
Whittier to Anchorage is 50 miles. The In addition 303 miles are a combination
of lease capacity or acquired dark fiber.
REPEATERS-- REPEATERS-- Alaska United includes 67 optical amplifiers (also
called EDFAs, Erbium-doped Fiber Amplifiers). AU-East has 33 and AU-West has
34. These undersea amplifiers are integrated into the cable and are powered by
"constant-current" PFEs (power feed equipment) located at the six cable landing
stations. These EDFAs amplify the optical signal without any conversion to an
intermediate electrical signal.
AU-North does not have subsea amplifiers. The capacity on AU-North is
regenerated at Whitier, Valdez and along the pipeline corridor. AU-North
currently operates at multiple OC-48 signal level.
STRANDS--Alaska United has been designed to support WDM (wavelength division
multiplexing) whereby separate wavelengths (colors) each can carry an OC-192
(optical carrier level 192 which is 9.95328 Mbps or 129,024 traditional voice
circuits). Currently Alaska United is carrying one completely ringed OC-192
signal with additional OC-192 capacity on stand alone portions of the network.
Each fiber pair can be upgraded to additional OC-192 channels by adding
shore-based electronics without changing the wet plant.
Alaska United has a minimum four fiber strands in all cable cross-sections
(i.e., 2-fiber ring in a common cable sheath). There are up to 48 fiber strands
in the terrestrial cable sections. One PSBU (power-switched branching unit) is
included in Alaska United- East and provides a common point where the three
undersea cable segments are joined. The PSBU provides the ability to remotely
switch the power configuration of the cable and thereby enhance system
reliability. The SONET terminal equipment can interface standard asynchronous
and synchronous circuit types including: DS-1, DS-3, OC-1, OC-3, OC-12, OC-48,
and EC-1 (electrical carrier level 1). SEAFAST has a minimum of 24 fibers in
each cable segment.
What is SONET and how is it an advantage?
SONET stands for Synchronous Optical NETwork and is a fiber optic transport
standard developed by ANSI (American National Standard Institute). SONET has
the key advantages of providing high-capacity fiber optic transport, defines a
system of synchronous signal levels, includes a high-level of OAM&P
(Operations, Administration, Maintenance, and Provisioning) capability,
supports automatic protection switching, allows a high-degree of
interoperability between different vendor platforms, etc.
Relative to Alaska United, define protection, bit error rate, route diversity?
PROTECTION-- Alaska United East and West create a diversely routed SONET ring
system, which it includes automatic protection switching (APS) to protect
against failure of any individual electronic or fiber optic component of the
network including a cable cut in the system. Alaska United North has SONET
protection but currently it is in a collapsed ring where both sides of the ring
network are physically located in the same cable sheath. This configuration
allows for protection against failure of any individual electronic or fiber
optic component of the network not including an actual cable cut.
BER--the ratio of error bits to the total number of bits transmitted. Alaska
United is an astoundingly small one bit error occurring every
10,000,000,000,000 (trillion) bits sent (this is three to four orders of
magnitude better than satellite or microwave).
DIVERSITY--by itself, Alaska United does have "route diversity" on the AU-East
and AU-West segments since the fiber ring is contained in separate distinct
cable sheaths. AU-North does not have diversity and is a collapsed ring
What types of hazards does a subsea cable face?
The primary causes of external aggression are bottom fishing, ocean currents,
and geological events such as earthquakes and volcanoes. However, 95 percent of
submarine cable failures are attributable to fishing activities. To guard
against these factors, Alaska United will be plow buried from shore to a depth
of 4,900 feet or greater except in rocky areas where bottom conditions don't
permit burial or fishing. Additionally, the route was adjusted to avoid
What precautions have been taken to minimize hazards?
The cable route has been selected to avoid as many external aggression factors
as feasibly possible. Extensive research of fishing activities and practices
has been done to avoid busy fishing areas. Cable armoring and burial is planned
in areas where potential fishing is unavoidable. GCI will ensure that the
Alaska United cable route is identified as a "cable protection route" on
nautical charts. GCI will also actively communicate with the fishing industry
and monitor fishing activities to decrease the possibility of damage to the
cable. GCI maintains an active hot line to GCI network operation center to
assist any fisherman that may mistakenly come in contact with one of the