Underwater Internet Network  What is it? + History ▷ 2020

Internet as we know it, it works very differently from how many imagine it. Many users today might think that communications are carried out by satellite or wirelessly, but there is nothing further from the truth.

For you to know, there are thousands of kilometers of submarine cables that allow the connection of communications and what we know today as the Internet. However Why, if technology has advanced so far, do we turn to cabling instead of other innovations?

Does this wiring have a negative ecological impact? The answers to these and other questions you will know In the next post where we will teach you everything you need to know about the network of fiber optic submarine cables that surround the world.

What are submarine Internet cables and what is this infrastructure for?

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Basically It is a network of submarine fiber optic cables that connect all the continents of the world in a huge communications network. These cables have a special coating that keeps them completely isolated from water and protected against deterioration, although they are continuously maintained. More than 90% of these cables have been installed by private companies dedicated to the telecommunications sector.

This being its main investment and a job that began specifically in the 90s in the case of fiber optics, the best technology for data transfer by physical means. From that first cable line thrown into the sea between the United States and the United Kingdom, to the huge network of more than a million kilometers that surround the world and through which more than 90% of Internet traffic passes daily and they keep us communicated at the speed of light.

Why use cables when we can use satellites or WiFi antennas?

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Ideas like WiFi or radio waves seem to be taken from futuristic movies, but the reality is that they are more limited than most think. The first of them is only a transmission medium that depends on a feeding, that is to say; the Wifi By itself it does not provide a connection and requires Ethernet to create it. While satellite is highly dependent on weather conditions and its low bandwidth for the needs of today’s average internet user.

Fiber solves all these problems since having physical support is little affected by the weather, and its bandwidth is considerably greater than that of any technology known so far.. Also, while it requires more maintenance, in essence it is much more cost effective than other forms of connection. Bandwidth is undoubtedly the main strength of fiber connections, since each of these cables contain pairs of up to 8 wires, the latter being capable of transmitting more than 3Tb per second.

What would make each cable can transmit more than 60Tb per second. Numbers that for now are not possible using wave connections. Another reason why fiber has won over satellite is because of the distances that the information travels. Two of the furthest points on the planet are Los Angeles (United States) and Tokyo (Japan), which They are separated by approximately 9,000 km, while the satellites that surround our atmosphere are more than 30,000 kilometers apart..

It is speculated that the technology 5G It could completely change this landscape as it would allow much more powerful satellite connections with unlimited bandwidth. However, it is also estimated that even in this scenario, fiber continues to represent a more profitable alternative that will not be replaced in the short term. It could take 100 years for us to completely displace this connection.

History of submarine cabling What was the first network and how has it evolved until today?

At its birth, telecommunications encountered a great obstacle in the great distances that separated the main cities of the world, making ideas such as an international call impossible. In 1845 the first tests were already being carried out to put into practice the concept of the submarine cable, but the lack of a good insulation to protect the wiring from water made the idea impractical.

Fortunately, In 1846 the German Werner Von Siemens created a material called gutta-percha, which turned out to be a perfect insulator to allow the first submarine cable line connecting France and the United Kingdom to be drawn a year later, in this case for telegraphic communications. The following years of this century continued to be installed throughout Europe, and in 1866 the first transatlantic line was drawn that communicated Ireland with Newfoundland.

When it comes to Internet networks, the first fiber optic cable was launched in 1996 to connect the United States with the United Kingdom. Since then, there are more than 1 million kilometers of submarine cable until now, and projects continue to emerge to make the network more extensive. In total there are more than 300 cables that have been thrown into the sea. Some are relatively short, less than 200 kilometers like the one that connects Japan with Taiwan, but others are extremely long like the one that connects Los Angeles with Tokyo.

Influence on the quality of the connection Which are the countries with the most cables?

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As we explained before, each of these cables offers a bandwidth of 60Tb. Each one of them reaches a central that later distributes the connection to the entire country. Knowing this, it is evident that the amount of cables that connect to a central directly influence the quality and speed of the Internet in that geographical area. In this sense, the United States is without a doubt the country with the most powerful Internet.

In fact, it could be said that it is the “central of the centrals”, since practically all the countries connect with it. The largest cable complex is the one that connects Europe and much of the UK; the second is that it goes from the opposite side to connect them with the Asian continent, and another network that connects the majority of LATAM nations with the world’s main economic power.

The influence of the United States in the network is such that many countries use it as an anchor to connect with other nations with which they do not have direct wiring. For example, there is no cable that connects Mexico with Europe, but with the USA, and this in turn has a fluid connection with the old continent, so thanks to this, Mexicans and Europeans can be in tune.

How are these submarine cables installed? Do they represent any biological risk for the marine ecosystem?

The installation of these cables is easy to understand, but not at all simple to execute. What is done is unrolling them in the sea while they are transported by a boat. However, this is a process that cannot be done at full speed, since if any tension is generated between the cable and its starting point, enough force can be generated to break them, so it should be done slowly.

This makes even the shortest runs a time-consuming job, even though technology has evolved a lot to get everything done as quickly as possible. Drawing a line from, for example, Spain to France can take at least 6 months, and if we talk from the United States to Japan it could be more than 2 years. The biggest drawback for engineers to perform this feat is undoubtedly the depth variations that exist throughout the seabed.

As on the surface, underwater there are mountains and all kinds of hills, which creates a terrain with different depths.. The deepest cable is in the Japan Trench, more than 8,000 meters.

Do they carry any biological risk?

Well unfortunately yes. Lines are often drawn that pass over reefs and must destroy entire marine ecosystems, which has been disputed many times by organizations such as Greenpeace. In fact, the possibility of removing those cables that are in dark fiber condition has been discussed on many occasions (networks that are not in operation) to alleviate the ecological impact.

Regarding the voltage, the reality is that they are relatively low powers in electrical terms, so there is no possibility that an entire species is electrocuted if one breaks unless it has direct contact with the cable. Although we remember that fiber optics do not carry electricity but light. However, there are still many complaints about this network, especially debates on whether it should begin to be eradicated with the appearance of 5G that would improve satellite communications.

What happens if one of these cables breaks? Could an entire country lose Internet connection?

A breakdown in one of these cables is a serious headache for companies that have invested in them, as the cost to repair is enormous, but beyond that, there is no direct risk if a pair of cables breaks. or they break down, since a country does not depend on one or two to be connected. The reality is that a central office in a country can have dozens of cables reaching it. In most cases, a failure of this type would only be noticeable at the connection speed level, and even in this case it would be quite imperceptible.

Next we will see how these cables can be repaired:

How they are repaired

Repairing these cables is impossible under water, which is why repairing them requires pulling them to the surface. The problem is finding the exact section among the thousands of kilometers of wiring that each line can have. Some methods have been implemented such as installing cameras along the cabling, but in areas below 1,500 meters in depth, the light is not very abundant.

In this sense, the biggest challenge is to find the fault, and in successful cases this can take weeks and even months, and sometimes what is done is directly declare the line as inactive and put a new one, another reason why environmental organizations urgently ask for a more planet-friendly alternative.

Map of submarine internet cables

Map of submarine internet cables

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, we will answer you as soon as possible, and it will surely be of great help to more members of the community. Thank you! 😉

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