Submarine cable manufacturer ASN will be the French showcase for industrial 5G

In an enormous yellow metal tank, 10 meters in diameter and 9 meters high, two men help to coil a black cable, barely thicker than a garden hose, on itself. The slightest twist is forbidden: behind layers of plastic, steel wire, copper and zinc hide 24 pairs of optical fibers on which, once deposited at the bottom of the oceans, the worldwide internet traffic will pass.

The accuracy of these two ” loved ones ” – the nickname of these technicians who could not replace the robots – also serves to store up to 1,200 kilometers of submarine cables in the limited volume of a single tank. “One of the most important factors in keeping our business running smoothly is knowing how to store an extremely bulky product”, explains Thomas Lecointe, director of operations of Alcatel Submarine Network (ASN), from the top of a pedestrian bridge of the group’s Calais factory. Because once put together before boarding a laying ship, a cable can be up to 7,000 kilometers long. We understand the obsession with storage for Europe’s first manufacturer of optical submarine cables, a legacy of the former Alcatel, now owned by Finnish telecom equipment maker Nokia.

While human arms remain essential for storage, ASN has benefited from a technological helping hand since November. Thanks to the commissioning of a 5G GSM network to which laser sensors are connected, the manufacturer accurately measures the size of the 130 tanks and the height of their filling in real time. This gives him a perfect view of resources, inventory and process progress, all vital data for ramping up the plant’s production to meet the explosive demand for cables from GAFA, Google and Meta leading the way. ASN has invested 80 million euros over the past two years to increase the production capacity of the factory in Calais by 25%.

“Vital to our production”

“5G is vital to our production”, says Alain Biston, CEO of ASN. Formerly at Nortel, the Canadian specialist in mobile networks before bankruptcy in 2009, it was he who had the idea to go to parent company Nokia to build this 5G mobile network, operated by Free, available inside and outside, up to the cable loading dock on ships. It costs “several millions of euros”, indicates Mr Biston without further details, about a third of which is supported by the France Relance plan. For the CEO, 5G is a real plus. “Using it in the tank has shown workers that it simplifies their lives. The teams have since devised twenty other applications on this new wireless network., emphasizes Mr. Boston. For example, it will allow accurate geolocation of all equipment, saving time and mileage for employees. Given the length of the production process, some technicians walk more than 13 kilometers per day.

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