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Submarine cables, the power of communication

Monday, 30 January 2017 14:56

The cable of Facebook and Microsoft is the largest submarine infrastructure that does not belong to the consortium of telephone operators, it opens the market to a new era of communication and it is controlled by commercial superstructures that are outside the local legislation of countries to which affects


There are currently more than 350 submarine cables spread all over the world. Only about 20 extend under the Atlantic Ocean. Traditionally, it is the telecommunication companies that have been in charge of laying cables, everything that keeps them under their control and ownership. Then, these operators, in almost all cases of public companies that were privatized in the 90s, rent the access to the cable to the Internet operators, who have to respect principles like the one of Net Neutrality. This situation has begun to change.


Since 2010, Google has been provider of free and high speed Internet access in small areas of USA; this is Google Fiber “a different kind of Internet”. Meanwhile Facebook has gone further towards with drones and its own satellites to reach the difficult points such as sub-Saharan Africa with its controversial project


Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon – the cloud owner of Netflix, Drop box and the Internet’s most popular services – collect and store more and more data, increasing their power and influence over what we do, are and know on the Net with help of several monitoring mechanisms.


We currently have over 1.000 million meters of submarine cable, although apparently not enough. We have two projects like the connection of Los Angeles to Hong Kong and Google and Facebook, or MAREA; that is going to join Virginia with Bilbao, this project is carried out by Microsoft and Facebook.


This is the complete list, with Google at the top, including cables under construction:


Google (43.000 km)

                Tannat (co-owner, 2.000 km, Brazil-Uruguay, 2017)

                Junior (owner, 390 km, Brazil, 2017)

                FASTER (co-owner, 11.629 km, USA – China, 2016)

                Monet (co-owner, 10.556 km, USA – Brazil, 2016)

                Southeast Asia Japan Cable (co-owner, 8.900 km, Japan – Singapore, 2013)

                Unity (co-owner, 9.620 km, USA – Japan, 2010)



                MAREA (co-owner, 6.600km, USA – Spain, 2017)

                New Cross Pacific Cable System (co-owner, 13.618 km, USA – China, 2017)

                AEConnect (main owner, 5.522 km, USA – Ireland, 2016)

                Hibernia Express (main owner, 4.600 km, Canada – United Kingdom, 2015)


Facebook (17.000 km)

                MAREA (co-owner, 6.600 km, USA – Spain, 2017)

                Asia Pacific Gateway (co-owner, 10.400 km, Japan – Singapore, 2016)


Amazon (10.000 km)

                Hawaiki (main owner, 10.200 km, USA – Australia, 2018)




It is a submarine cable of 6.600 km that goes through the Atlantic with Virginia and Bilbao at the ends. The cable will start operating at the end of 2017 with the direct support of Telxius, a subsidiary company of Telefonica, and it will transport 260 Terabit per second, more data than any created to the date.


It will transport exclusively the huge amount of data that Microsoft and Facebook will produce in the next 25 years, allowing to control at low cost the quality and quantity of traffic passing through. This is his property right.


Marea announces the progressive transformation of Internet, from a general and open network of networks to a conglomerate of super-specialized networks in traffic to Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other players with sufficient power, portfolio and influence to build that type of the cables.




Pacific Light Data Communication, which is subsidiary of China’s Soft Power Technology, will be the responsible for launching this $400 million project, which is scheduled to enter into operation in 2018. The aim of this new development will be a decrease in latency and a broad band of Facebook and Google users within the Asia-Pacific region.


The cable will have a length of 12.800 kilometers and a speed of up to 120 Tbps, this through five pairs of fiber capable of providing a bandwidth of up to 24 tbps. The cable will connect Los Angeles with Hong Kong becoming the largest capacity and speed of the Pacific Ocean, a record that currently owns to Google with its FASTER cable. Its capacity in five fiber pairs is so that other companies, which participate in the investment, have their own portion of cable to maintain their private traffic.


What about satellites?


The international calls, messages that we send, and transmissions that are made on the Internet, run through those submarine cables that we have not almost in our mind, since they are not in sight, nor are they usually news. The 99% of transoceanic communications are made there, achieving a speed up to eight times higher than expected with the satellite network. The satellite can be disturbed by a typhoon, even rain, while the cable rests “quiet” on the seabed, and positions itself as a more reliable and faster infrastructure.


As modern as the satellite communication may seem, submarine cables start to win the game with the appearance of fiber optics. New cabling technologies allowed for the transmission of large amounts of data with very low latency.


How are submarine cables made?


The fiber optic cable for which data travels through is even thinner than one of the many USB cables we use at home. The final thickness is doe to successive layers of protection, waterproofing and padding. This is the structure of a typical transoceanic fiber cable. Underneath several insulating layers and a thick tangle of braided fibers of galvanized steel and plastic, we find a copper tube through which the electric current flows. The cable itself does not need current, but every 80 kilometers, it is installed small capsules with amplifiers that are responsible for reinforcing the optical signal of the cable. These amplifiers need electricity to run, and that current comes through the copper tube.


This video shows how the cable is made to withstand the incredible pressures of the ocean flow.




Possible laboratory tests (Source: Ineltec)


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Picture (2017). Submarine Cable Map. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Jan. 2017].




YouTube. (2017). A Journey To The Bottom Of The Internet. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Jan. 2017].