Letter to a friend: "Behind SubOptic"

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My friend,

Let me tell you few things about SubOptic and little things behind SubOptic.

The history of SubOptic can be compared, in a more modest mode though, to the history of the “World Expos”. The very first world expo took place in London in 1851, followed by another one in the same place in 1862.  England was then the cradle of the industrial revolution. When the French Emperor Napoleon 3 decided to organize the 1867 world expo in Paris with the name “Exposition de l ’Art et de l’Industrie”, the idea was clearly to promote the French  industry and to show the world that Paris was a capital city, second of none, especially London. The Russian Tsar and many head of states were invited to the expo including Queen Victoria! The Eiffel tower was constructed for the 1889 world expo and the message conveyed by its design was crystal clear. No surprise, this year, 2010, a world expo is taking place in Shanghai!

In a somewhat similar and logical manner the very first submarine cable conference was actually organized in London in 1979 by STC and IEEE. It was a good, modest, natural technical meeting. The event had no message, no hidden ambition attached to it.

My secret idea, when we launched the first event in 1986, was to put forward “Alcatel Submarcom” as a key actor. At that time Submarcom was perceived as a second tier player compared to STC and ATT. The choice of Versailles, a prestigious symbol of power, was purposely done to convey the message, without having to say it too loudly! You were there my Friend and you do remember, I am sure, the concert in the Royal Chapel “Musique à la Cour des Bourbons” !

Believe me or not, I had an even more hidden target in the back of my mind: raise the visibility of the submarine cable activity within Alcatel and especially to the eyes of the top corporate management. Submarcom was sitting between two companies within the group, with very different culture, the cable side and the electronic side. Nobody, at the highest level, had a good knowledge of what Submarcom was all about! SubOptic 86 did this job very well!

And I did two little things which ended up being extremely valuable. We gave the event a name: SubOptic 86 .The activity was living a transition from the analog/coaxial era to the digital/optical period. By this simple fact we had created a concept. Important also was the committee of a handful of industry senior figures that we managed to put in place, giving the event a kind of international blessing.

Few years later, I tried to convince ATTSSI, namely Bill Carter to grasp the ball. Things were not ripe over there. So we did again and that was Versailles 93. The temptation was there to establish Paris as the permanent place for the event but at the closing ceremony I was able to announce that the next event would be hosted and sponsored by SSI.  Bill would not let anybody else organize the following event. SSI could not anymore stay as the supplier of the sole ATT.  Deregulation, privatization!  I very well remember some of my face to face discussions with Bill who had the vision of the future high capacity global network. Such vision was requiring a new SSI with the ambition to “cable the planet”. Remember AC1, Africa One, FLAG, Global Crossing. And that was San Francisco 97, where it was announced that the next event, in 2001 will be hosted by… KDD scs!

Yes, my Friend in 1993, Doctor Niiro would not let anybody else grasp the ball. It was his hour!  He had a vision and a legitimate ambition for his country that had, in his mind, for too long play in the backyard. Time for SCS to be a front runner: SMW3, APCN, TPC5, PC1, and finally TAT14! That was Kyoto 2001!

Now I can hear your question my friend: Things are now different?

Yes, very different now and not sure I can read and analyze it the same way I just did here above.  It seems to me that neither ASN neither Tyco, the so dominant players, felt the need to invest so much time and efforts in such event.  Hosting Monaco 2004 and Baltimore 2007 was a kind of statutory obligation. And it is probably the case for NEC and Fujitsu in the coming Yokohama 2010. They are doing what the community is expecting from them. And, to take it positively, that could very well be the sign that that our industry has reach maturity. SubOptic is now really the industry gathering, not any more a tool in the hand of some ambitious guys!

What do you think?

Jean Devos


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