China Mobile and China Telecom withdraw from Sea-Me-We 6 project


Reports suggest that the companies withdrew their investment last year, with geopolitical tensions with the US proving insurmountable

According to a report from the Financial Times, China’s two largest mobile operators – China Mobile and China Telecom – have withdrawn their participation in the South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 6 (Sea-Me-We 6) submarine cable project.

The Sea-Me-We 6 system was first announced last year, with the cable set to span some 19,200km linking Singapore to Marseille, France.

The latest in a series of Sea-Me-We cables, this new iteration is set to be built with 10 fibre pairs, with a total capacity of 126 Tbps, aiming to deliver robust connectivity across South Asia.

The system will reach 12 initial countries, with branches to further locations expected to be added later in the cable’s lifespan.

The project is backed by a consortium including major companies from all over the world, including Microsoft, Orange, Telecom Egypt, Telekom Malaysia, Telin, and all three of China’s major mobile operators: China Unicom, China Mobile, and China Telecom.

The entire project is estimated to cost around half a billion dollars, with China Mobile and China Telecom’s combined investment accounting for around 20% of that total.

The Sea-Me-We 6 system is expected to be ready for service in 2025.

The China Mobile and China Telecom appear to have withdrawn quietly last year, with sources suggesting that they cancelled their involvement after American firm SubCom was selected to build and deploy the cable over Hengtong Marine, China’s foremost fibre cable manufacturer.

China Unicom, the smallest of China’s three mobile operators, seemingly remains involved in the project.

While the loss of around 20% of the projects funding is surely painful for the rest of the consortium, an anonymous consortium member commented that the loss of the Chinese firms was “important but not critical”.

The withdrawal is seen by many as the latest evidence of the ongoing geopolitical conflict between the US and China, with the submarine cable industry having been increasingly pulled into the fray over the past three years.

Since 2020, the US has viewed subsea cable systems connecting the US to China and Hong Kong as potential threats to national security, having refused to permit their activation on numerous occasions.

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