Submarine networks have evolved alongside terrestrial ones over the past several decades. Although there are similarities between these two network categories (e.g., the need to cover ultra-long-haul distances and transport huge amounts of data), there are also important differences that have dictated their
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Submarine networks have evolved alongside terrestrial ones over the past several decades. Although there are similarities between these two network categories (e.g., the need to cover ultra-long-haul distances and transport huge amounts of data), there are also important differences that have dictated their different evolutionary paths. Space division multiplexing (SDM) promises to be the ultimate solution to cover future capacity needs and overcome problems of both networks. In this work, we review recent and future submarine technologies, focusing on all critical sectors: cable systems, amplifiers’ technology, submarine network architectures, electrical power- feeding issues, economics, and security. Such an analysis, with the level of detail provided in this manuscript, is not available in the literature so far. We first overview all recently announced SDM-based submarine cable systems, compare their performance (capacity-distance product), and analyze the reasons that led to the first SDM submarine deployment. Also, we report up-to-date experimental results of submarine transmission demonstrations and perform a qualitative categorization that relies on their features. Moreover, based on all latest advances and our study findings, we try to predict the future of SDM submarine optical networks mainly in the fields of fiber types, fiber counts per cable, fiber-coating variants, modulation formats, as well as the type and layout structure of optical amplifiers. More specifically, results show that SDM can offer higher capacities (in order of Pb/s) compared to its counterparts, supported by novel network technologies: pump-farming amplification schemes, high counts up to 50 parallel fiber pairs, thinner fiber coating variants (200 μm), and optimum spectral efficiency (2–3 b/s/Hz). Finally, we conclude that tradeoffs between capacity and implementation complexity and cost will have to be carefully considered for future deployments of submarine cable systems.