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Meanwhile, Over At The "New York" Stock Exchange... Lasers

The last time we looked at the most important tower in the world, about 4 months ago, it looked as follows:

 

The tower in question is the primary microwave relay into the ill-named "New York" Stock Exchange which actually is located just off MacArthur Boulevard and Route 17 in Mahwah, New Jersey, and in our opinion is the "most important tower" in the world, because without it, the financial industry, which these days means a few hundred thousands HFT algos and their math PhD creators, would grind to a halt as suddenly trading would revert back to the "caveman days" of 2007, when one actually traded not just to frontrun a whale order in some dark pool half way around the world, but actually cared about such things as "fundamentals" and "reality" (oh, and there wasn't some $12 trillion in cental bank created liquidity supporting every asset class).

The reason we bring up said tower, is because over the past several weeks there has been some furious work by engineers hanging off said tower some 100 feet in the air, resolutely adding a particular device to the primary microwave relay tower at the NYSE.

The device in question has been highlighted:

What is said new device? Extremetech explains:

High-frequency trading — the practice of making thousands of algorithmic stock trades per minute — is about to get a big boost in the USA. Anova, a company that specializes in deploying low-latency networks for stock trading, is completing an ultra-high-speed laser network between the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the NASDAQ. The link will be just a few nanoseconds faster than the current microwave and fiber-optic links — but in the world of high-frequency trading (HFT), those nanoseconds could result in millions of dollars in profits for the trading companies. Such is the insanity of the stock markets; such is the unbelievable capacity of HFT to create money out of almost nothing.

 

If you want to get a signal quickly from point A to point B, you basically have three options: fiber-optic cables, a network of microwave dishes, or laser links. Electrical (copper wire) networks are feasible over short runs, but their reduced functionality and bandwidth over longer runs makes them less desirable than fiber. Microwave (and even higher-frequency millimeter wave) networks also aren’t very high-bandwidth, but because they’re purpose-built, they can take a very direct route, significantly undercutting the latency of an oft-congested and round-about fiber network. Laser networks have all the advantages of microwave/millimeter wave networks, but they have higher bandwidth, and some very clever adaptive optics means they’re not impacted by bad weather. (Microwaves really hate inclement weather.)

 

 

Last year, Anova completed a laser network link between the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges, and now, it seems the company is nearing completion on a similar laser network between the NYSE and NASDAQ data centers in Mahwah and Carteret, New Jersey. In the case of both networks, Anova is using equipment provided by AOptix, an American company that is contracted by the US military to produce similar laser-based systems for ground-to-aircraft communications. Each AOptix base station is capable of “carrier-grade” availability (five nines, 99.999%) over a distance of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). The route, which is about 35 miles as the crow flies and skirts the center of Newark, will probably feature around six or seven base stations, each of which will have a direct line of sight with its two nearest neighbors. The link speed, according to the AOptix tech specs, will be around 2Gbps — not exactly massive by fiber-optic standards, but more than enough for a few thousand trades per second.

 

The cost of building the network won’t have been cheap — probably a few million dollars — but that’s absolutely pennies for stock traders. (The new fiber link between London and Tokyo, which is also primarily for stock traders, will cost $1.5 billion.)

 

The exact latency improvement of the NYSE-NASDAQ laser network isn’t yet known, but over a distance of just 35 miles we’re probably talking about nanoseconds. A microwave system currently in place between Chicago and NYC — a straight-line distance of around 800 miles — has a latency of 4.13 milliseconds. Scaling that down to 35 miles (dividing it by 23), you get a latency of 0.18 milliseconds between the NYSE and NASDAQ. I don’t know how fast the existing fiber/microwave links are, but even a difference of a few nanoseconds would be enough to beat out other high-frequency trading companies that are using older, slower networks. Anova, unsurprisingly, says it has dozens of trading firms who want to use the new laser network, all of which could stand to boost their profits. Though, as with all HFT technology, once everyone is using it (or something comparable) profit levels will revert.

 

And thus the craziness that is high-speed trading continues unabated, faster and more profitable than ever before

In other words, everyone who splurged on the "brand-new" as recently as 2014 microwave technologies to give their HFT system a leg up... is now obsolete.

Welcome to lasers: where you are either part of the very expensive club, or are being frontrun. Which also means that if Michael Lewis is indeed writing a sequel to Flash Boyd focusing on microwave towers, well, he may just want to burn the manuscript.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what "trading" has become.