From data centers to submarine cables, a digital frenzy grips Marseille

From data centers to submarine cables, a digital frenzy grips Marseille

2023-10-02 10:00:04
Orange Marine employees in La Seyne-sur-Mer (Var), March 1, 2016. BORIS HORVAT / AFP

Based in La Seyne-sur-Mer (Var), the Sophie-Germain and its sixty crew members are just waiting for the signal to finally cast off. Arrived at the beginning of September from Colombo (Sri Lanka), where it was built, for an investment of 50 million euros, the brand new ship from Orange Marine, the subsidiary of the telecoms operator specializing in installation and maintenance of submarine cables, is preparing to crisscross the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Black Sea to repair the telecom cables through which Internet traffic passes between Asia, Europe and Africa.

“There are around 70,000 kilometers of cables in the region and we have the trust of almost all of their owners to intervene in the event of a breakdown”explains Didier Dillard, CEO of Orange Marine, during the christening of the ship on September 22, a ceremony for which the press, including The worldhad been invited by the operator.

The Sophie-Germain was expected. His predecessor, the Raymond-Croze, was beginning to “tired” after forty years of service. And given the importance of submarine fiber optic cables (98% of global data traffic passes through them), having a modern repair vessel, capable of traveling at a guaranteed speed of 12 knots, is no longer necessary. is not a luxury. “Being able to quickly repair a cable is an important responsibility in today’s digital world”underlines Mr. Dillard.

A “sovereignty issue”

Historic port of the French PTT when they deployed telegraph or telephone cables to the colonies, La Seyne-sur-Mer maintains a strategic position 60 kilometers from Marseille, which has become the great digital crossroads of the Mediterranean: sixteen telecom cables come out of water on Prado beach and on the quays of the Grand Maritime Port of Marseille (GPMM).

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These tips have taken the Marseille city from 44th to 7th place in the world on the digital chessboard in ten years. And with the cable projects announced for the coming months, it should quickly climb to the fifth step, behind Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Paris.

This cable activity has little weight at Orange − 150 million euros in turnover out of a total of 43 billion −, but it is a “sovereignty issue”insists Christel Heydemann, the group’s general director, on the bridge Sophie-Germain. With its seven ships, Orange is the last major telecoms operator to have retained this business.

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By adding the seven Alcatel Submarine Networks boats, operated by Louis-Dreyfus Armateurs, France has the largest fleet of cable ships in the world, ahead of the Americans, the British and the Japanese. And even if fiber optic cables are more easily repaired than a gas pipeline, the sabotage, in September 2022, of the Nord Stream, in the Baltic Sea, highlighted their potential vulnerability. Cutting several wires at the bottom of the oceans would paralyze the global Internet.

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