Absolute Globalization: How Submarine Internet Cables Unite the Planet

Absolute Globalization: How Submarine Internet Cables Unite the Planet

09.01.2023
Author: HostZealot Team
2 min.
512

Although the global Starlink satellite system, which provides users with high-speed Internet, is making all the headlines right now, the statistics remain categorical - 95 percent of the world's network is fiber optic cable. The wires that form the "world wide web" and connect regions on different continents run along the sea and ocean floor.

Until the end of 2021, a large share of fiber-optic networks was under the control of countries and telecommunications firms. Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, the four global IT companies-Microsoft, Google, Meta, and Amazon-are the main consumers of fiber-optic capacity. They own a share of 65%.

And this fact is of slight concern to industry experts. The reason is that the main "players" in the segment of Internet services can take over the infrastructure to ensure their supply.

The WSJ journalists draw a parallel - what could the situation lead to when Amazon owns all the roads it uses to deliver parcels? That is, traffic speeds will be significantly reduced for ordinary users, while the four companies get maximum priority with minimal delays.

And although the fear of specialists is quite fair, in fact, ordinary users turned out to be on the plus side. The emergence of major IT players has reduced the price of network access services. If you look at data usage, there has been a 41% increase in speed globally.

Resin, hemp, or a layer of gutta-percha - how scientists and businessmen tried to conquer the seabed

In 1839, scientists William Cook and Charles Wheatstone revealed their invention to the world: the telegraph. In the same year, the idea of a line of communication across the Atlantic was born. The main lobbyist for this idea at the time was Samuel Morse, the man known to many for inventing the Morse code. The American inventor realized the idea after only three years. In 1842 he succeeded in laying the wire in New York Harbor. Unfortunately, the triumph was short-lived – a short time later the cable was damaged by local "gentlemen of fortune". The prospectors mistook the cable for sea treasure, so they cut it open.

And while some of the first "pests" in telecommunications were humans, they were not the main obstacle to the development of underwater systems. The longevity and durability of cable were problems that had to be solved as quickly as possible. To insulate the wires, Morse used rubber and tarred hemp. However, this was not enough.

Fortunately, 1842 was the year Palaquium gutta resin was discovered. It was brought from India to Europe by surgeon William Montgomery. The material called gutta-percha was distinguished by its elasticity and high strength. Montgomery saw in the material a perspective – it was possible to create surgical instruments. But a scientist from Great Britain, Michael Faraday, had the idea of using resin as the basis for an insulator.

By 1850 there were more than 50 telegraph companies in the world, many of them interested in laying a link between the continents. Some succeeded without difficulty. For example, brothers Jacob and John Watkins Brett, owners of the English Channel Submarine Telegraph Company, connected France and Great Britain. To do this, they stretched a wire across the English Channel. 

That same year, engineer Frederick Gisborne decided to realize an ambitious project. The Canadian owner of a telegraph company set out to create a communications link along the coast of America. The plan was to lay a link on the northeastern part of it. Thus it was possible to connect Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Unfortunately, the line was unprofitable, so in 1853 Gisborne's enterprise closed.

A year later Cyrus Field, a businessman who was involved in large financial transactions and paper sales, learned of Gisborne's project. The entrepreneur was interested in the idea of laying a line between Newfoundland and Ireland and consulted Morse, as well as the head of the National Observatory in Washington, Matthew Fontaine Maury.

The businessman founded the New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph, and his business partners were Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, and Marshall Owen Robert. At the same time the entrepreneur organized the Atlantic Telegraph Company in London. Thanks to this Field received grants from the British and U.S. governments.

London allocated 14,000 pounds a year, to be reduced to 10,000, while Washington grudgingly allocated $70,000. The American government was concerned about the fact that both ends of the cable were in British-controlled territory.

Humanity has triumphed, but this is only the beginning

The cable project across the Atlantic was approved. The first attempt to lay a transatlantic line was made in 1957. The cable consisted of seven pieces of copper wire. Latex, gutta-percha was used as insulation. Additionally, the wire was protected by a coating of tarred hemp. The spiral-shaped outer sheath consisted of metal wire. The imposing wire did not work - it quickly wore out and eventually broke.

The second run in June 1958 failed. The cause was the same wear and tear and subsequent breakage. Between July and August 1958, the cable laying was completed. Two ships set out to meet each other. The "Agamemnon" and the "Niagara" crossed paths on July 29. They connected cables with a total length of 4,000 kilometers.

In mid-August a historic telegram was sent. Queen Victoria, who ruled Great Britain at the time, congratulated U.S. President James Buchanan on the launch of the line. She declared victory, noting "great international work". The 103-word transfer took 16 hours. The head of the United States noted that it "is a triumph more glorious because it is far more beneficial to humanity than has ever been won on the battlefield." It took 10 hours to transmit the full 143-word text.

It is interesting that it took so long to transmit a short message in Morse code by modern standards. Now the data transfer rate is more than 200 terabits per second. The record-breaking bandwidth is the MAREA wire, which was laid between the U.S. and Spain. The joint project of the telecommunications company Telxius and the two tech giants Meta and Microsoft, which connects Bilbao and Virginia Beach, shows a result of 224 Tbps.