As Asia rises, Guam gets wired

Located at Asia's doorstep, it gets a commercial data center facility; growth expected

Dan Moffat, CEO of GTA TeleGuam, says his island home of just over a year has a Silicon Valley-like feel to it. It's looking at a major growth spurt. Housing prices are going up. Money is flowing into the island.

The U.S. government is behind much of the expected growth, with plans to transfer some 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to this Western Pacific island over the next few years. The military, which already uses a third of the island's 212 square miles for naval and air bases, will bring along thousands more dependents and support personnel, a move expected to boost Guam's population by more than 20%, from 175,000 people to about 215,000.

But the U.S. territory — a seven hour flight from Hawaii — is seeing expansion of another kind: fiber. The island is connected by eight undersea telecommunications cables, with four more planned, offering Tbit/sec. speeds.

Recently announced projects include a cable from Australia. Pipe Networks Ltd. said last month that it is ready to go ahead with a planned 4,287-mile fiber cable (download PDF presentation and cable map) connecting Sydney to Guam, costing about $183 million. Company officials describe Guam as "the key international telecommunications interconnection hub."

The cable to Guam will give Pipe Networks access to cables running to the U.S. and other places.

Another project, the Asia-America Gateway, developed by a 17-member consortium of telecom providers in Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam and several other nations announced plans last year to build a 12,427-mile cable from Malaysia, with direct links to a number of countries as well as Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast. It is costing about $500 million and is due to be ready later this year.

The increase in cable connections is a direct result of Asia's economic rise. Guam, which from the days of Spanish rule has been a key port, today finds itself as a crossroads for transcontinental communications links, said Moffat. "This is one of the most connected places on Earth," Moffat said in a telephone interview. "Guam hasn't been on anybody's radar until recently — in the last year or two, with the military buildup. We're right on the doorstep of Asia."

Indeed, Guam is closer to Asia than to the U.S. Many major Asian destinations, including the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, China and Japan, are within three to five hours by air.

Last month, GTA TeleGuam, the island's major telecom provider, opened a 60,000-square-foot data center. Moffat hopes that may spur interest by companies to locate computer systems close to the cable hubs.

The data center was originally built about five years ago by Tyco International Ltd. But it never developed into a data center, despite construction capable of withstanding typhoons that can deliver winds in excess of 230 miles an hour and earthquakes that can give the island a good jolt.

The data center has two large generators and two separate battery rooms. The building itself is made of reinforced concrete, and the equipment inside is braced, said Moffat. In addition to GTA equipment, the data center houses services for two banks and two search engine providers that wanted closer access to Asia while remaining on U.S. soil.

Moffat, who arrived just over a year ago to head up GTA TeleGuam, previously ran New Edge Networks Inc. in Vancouver, Wash., a national VPN provider that was acquired by EarthLink Inc. in 2005.

Guam today is a cross between suburban Middle America — with a Kmart and fast-food chains — and an exotic landscape of jagged, volcanic-formed hills, jungle and temperatures that hover around 85 degrees year-round. Resorts catering to Asian tourists are also flourishing there.

Moffat said he likes living on the island. "I think Guam over the next 25 years is going to be a very good place just because of what's happening in Asia."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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