A group of six international companies has announced plans to build an ultra-high speed, undersea, fiber-optic cable under the Pacific Ocean, between Japan and the United States.  The project is meant to improve Internet and other telecommunication traffic between the U.S. and Asia, and comes as several other companies have begun similar ventures.  Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Singapore Telecommunications, Internet search company Google, and four other companies plan to spend $300 million on the underwater communications link. They say it will be ready for use by 2010.  The new cable network, called Unity, will link Chikura, Japan, with the western U.S. city of Los Angeles, a distance of about 10,000 kilometers.  The system will also connect to other Asian telecommunications cable systems.  

Fiber-optic cables are the lifelines for connecting Internet users on different continents.  This latest project is part of a surge in new transpacific cable construction projects, driven primarily by increasing demand in Asia.

Martin Gutberlet is the Vice President for Technology and Research at Gartner's Singapore office.  He says within two to three years, Internet traffic between the United States and Asia could double.

"And lots of traffic will be actually generated in Asia, so therefore there is simply more capacity needed between the U.S. and Asia," he said.

Gutberlet says that, based on current forecasts, now is the best time for companies to supply additional capacity between North America and Asia. 

eMarketer, an Internet and e-business research company, predicts that by 2012, almost 50 percent of the world's Internet users will live in the Asia Pacific region.

But, investments in undersea cable links are not without risk. 

In December 2006, a strong earthquake near Taiwan damaged four large offshore cables, disrupting Internet service for millions of people across Asia.  Service was not fully restored for weeks. 

Earlier this year, communications in large parts of the Middle East and Southeast Asia were affected after two undersea cables were damaged in the Mediterranean Sea.

Gutberlet says, aside from avoiding seismically unstable spots on the ocean floor, it is impossible to forecast such problems.

"So that is simply something which you can't plan for.  And of course, if you have an earthquake, or if someone is, you know, hitting your cable with a boat, or a ship, then you simply have bad luck," he said.

And in 2000, during the dot-com bust, several telecommunications companies went bankrupt when too many competitors entered the market.

Gutberlet says one of the reasons most underwater cables are laid by consortiums is to lessen the risks for a single company.   At the rate the Asia Pacific's telecommunications market is forecast to expand, Gutberlet says the financial attraction of such ventures far outweighs the potential risks.