A $100 million deal has just been signed for the construction of a new, state-of-the-art fibre optic cable between Darwin and Port Hedland.
Shell and INPEX have contracted Melbourne-based communications company Nextgen Group to build an optical fibre cable that will enable high-speed data transfer to projects their projects off the Kimberley coast.
Nextgen will build, own and operate the cable system, which will stretch about 2000kms between Darwin and Port Hedland, to support the INPEX Ichthys LNG project and Shell's Prelude LNG project in the Browse Basin.
The cable is planned to have a capacity of eight terrabits per second, with room to be upgraded to more than 32 terrabits per second.
French telecommunications group Alcatel-Lucent have also been brought into the deal for their experience with undersea technology.
Alcatel-Lucent Australia's president and managing director Sean O'Halloran said the new project reflects a growing trend of players in the local resources sector investing in large telecommunications projects.
"This is another example of a strong telecommunications investment trend in the Australian resources sector," he said.
"Alcatel-Lucent has many years working closely to keep Nextgen at the forefront of the market and this project is another great product of that positive collaborative relationship."
Work on the project will begin soon and carry over a two-year period, scheduled for completion in 2016, and will be connected to Nextgen’s new Shenton Park data centre.
In a joint statement, INPEX and Shell said the cable would provide superior reliability and quality compared with other available communication options such as satellite technology.
Ichthys project managing director Louis Bon said this type of privately-owned subsea infrastructure would be an Australian first.
"This is a great achievement for the Ichthys Project and an excellent example of what collaboration in the oil and gas industry can achieve," he said.
"It means that both of these projects, far north of Port Hedland, will be connected to data centres thousands of kilometres away in Perth."
Shell Prelude asset manager Jim Marshall said Prelude FLNG's close proximity to Ichthys represented a significant opportunity for INPEX and Shell to reach new technical and commercial outcomes.
"It means that workers at Shell and INPEX will have an ultra high speed communications link so they can stay in touch with their friends and families while working at offshore facilities," he said.
"Our investment will also establish a valuable piece of infrastructure that has the capacity to support the development of future offshore resources in the Browse Basin."
Nextgen CEO Peter McGrath said the project would deliver essential support to Australia's oil and gas industry while providing an “alternative backhaul path” of fibre optic infrastructure from Australia's North-West through to Perth.
"Nextgen understands Australia's resource industry will need increasingly high speed and robust communications links over time," he said.
"As an Australian company we're delighted to support two global leaders working in a sector that is the heartbeat of the national economy.
"This project builds on our successful track record of delivering high speed communications links for businesses, government and other users in underserviced regional and remote markets."
Nextgen is 70 per cent owned by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, and 30 per cent owned by Leighton Holdings.