By Glenn Lipsham
It is amazing to think that September 2022 is a huge milestone for me – whilst I know I retain an outwardly youthful appearance, I have been involved in the submarine cable industry for 25 years this month!! During this time the demand for capacity has grown exponentially with the advent of social media and streaming services, submarine cable systems have gone from 10’s of Gbs capacity to 100’s of Tbs. When you consider a 4k UHD Movie requires around 25Mbps to stream, a cable in 1997 could stream around 400 movies, whereas a cable being laid now streams around 4,000,000 movies, the increase in capacity is astounding!
I have enjoyed a tremendous variety of experiences and emotions over this period. It all started in the summer of 1997 when, having worked for BT already for 7 years I saw an advert in the job news to join the BT Subsea Team. I had no idea what the job entailed and had never seen or heard of a submarine cable, but the lure of promotion and a move back to my hometown was an immediate and irresistible draw.
Upon joining the team in September 1997, I was extremely lucky to be taken under the wing of an incredibly experienced colleague whose first words of wisdom were that I would either “hate the submarine cable industry and leave within a few months or fall in love with it and stay in it for the rest of my life.” 25 years later and still counting, I guess that question has been answered!
Shortly after joining the BT Subsea team, I was dispatched to sea on a PLIB (Post Lay Inspection & Burial) job for ‘just a couple of weeks’… Well, it will come as no surprise to the experienced, that this first trip ended up at sea for considerably longer than I thought – and much longer than my wife expected!
Having never worked offshore and certainly never even seen a subsea Remotely Operated Vehicle before, it was quickly apparent how demanding the industry and environment could be. That stood me in good stead since, as I have worked extensively on and offshore battling not only mother nature’s maritime hurdles but active volcanoes, tectonic fault lines and even the odd pirate – but those stories will have to wait for another post!
Since those early days, I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled extensively throughout the world, meeting some wonderful, generous, and talented people and making some lifelong friends. I have also been fortunate enough to work across a broad spectrum of disciplines in the subsea industry, delivering on cable projects that are a couple of hundred metres in length across a loch or river, to systems 39,000km in length, with 39 landing points in 35 countries and spanning five continents!
I have been a cable owner, a supplier and am now a consultant passing on my experience and supporting others in the industry. For many years I have heard people stating that the industry will lose a great deal of experience and knowledge and that the age demographic is constantly increasing. Well now as I get close to, if not already a member of, that elder demographic, I am focused on providing help and support to others, and distilling my knowledge to the next generation, much as I have benefitted over the last 25 years.
It is great to be working within the team at Red Penguin Marine to not only apply my experience across a diverse range of projects but to participate in an excellent initiative to engage with other industry leaders to bring much needed new and diverse talent into the industry. I now appreciate, reflecting back, that someone took time out of their hectic schedule, and showed patience to train me and share their knowledge for my benefit. I am now extremely keen to work with the Red Penguin team to hopefully help their juniors, and others to benefit from the same fantastic opportunities that I was afforded – and to have some fun in the process! Looking forwards, I confess to having a vested interest as this investment in others will allow me, one day, to hang up my sea boots and leave others to enjoy a similarly fun and satisfying subsea cable career, much as I have – incidentally, those sea boots need to be hung up sometime before the next 25 years pass!