Submarine Cables: What does the future hold?

August 23rd, 2019 by · 4 Comments

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Nick Dmitry of Infinera.

Our world is getting smaller and more connected, and the thread stitching us together is lying on the ocean floor.

The Earth is a watery place. H2O covers 71% of our planet's surface, and vast oceans separate countries and continents by thousands of miles. Yet, nations and peoples are drawing closer than at any point before in history.

Certainly, some of what's narrowed our world is attributable to access to travel and satellites. But the true link is more than planes or boats or antennas floating in the sky.

It's the internet, and it's made possible by an extensive network of over 350 submarine cables running along the ocean floor. As our connectivity becomes increasingly more crucial, the number and use of these subsea cables are only expected to grow.

From Telegraph to Telephone and Beyond - The Current State of Subsea Cables

Cabling across oceans has its origins in the 1850s as a telegraph line between England and the United States. From there, oceanic cabling moved to telephone and coaxial lines. Today, its fiber optics.

Modern-day submarine cables are genuine technological marvels. As of this writing, approximately 380 undersea cables stretch almost 750,000 miles across the globe. With the exception of Antarctica, every continent possesses multiple submarine connections.

The most widespread system in the world is the SeaMeWe-3, with a total length of almost 25,000 miles. It has 39 landing points (cities or areas with there is a terminus) and brings broadband, internet, and video services to 33 countries including Australia, and those in Europe and Asia.

Undersea cables are not just the work of governments and privately held firms of which few people have heard. Google owns roughly all or part of 8.5% of the cables worldwide. Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft collectively have a stake in another 80,000 miles of underwater cables

In fact, the world's fastest cable, the MAREA, is a joint venture between Microsoft and Facebook. With transfer speeds of 26.2 terabits (Tbps) per second, and a potential capacity reaching as much as 160 Tbps, the MAREA is one of the most advanced submarine cables in the world.

Unfortunately, some of these underwater connections still aren’t where they need to be to support the necessary level of data transfer. Singapore, for example, has some of the fastest internet in the world, but when connecting to U.S. based websites, users still experience noticeable load times because of inefficient or slow data transfer.

What's Next?

For the internet to thrive into the future, speed and capacity are critical. By 2021, 53.7% of the world's population is expected to have access to the internet. That's 4.29 billion people

The coming population boom and the subsequent demand for more information and the ability to get it faster requires a hyperfast internet with higher bandwidth. In other words, the ability to carry more data at faster speeds.

According to Cisco, by 2022, IP traffic will approach 4.8 zettabytes (ZB)

By 2025, our total data output will be 175ZB per year, when accounting for AI, machine learning, and the IoT.

To put that into perspective, David Reinsel, a senior vice president at market intelligence firm IDC, explains:

"If one were able to store 175ZB onto BluRay discs, then you'd have a stack of discs that can get you to the moon 23 times."

Currently, the world's data is a modest 33ZB.

All of this to say that submarine cables will be a growth industry for at least the next five to ten years, if not beyond.

From investments that totaled around $12 billion in 2018, the market for undersea cables is set to increase to nearly $21 billion by 2023. That investment means an expansion in capacity nearing 150% in the next three years.

Final Thoughts

While 4 billion people may not connect to the internet simultaneously, the demand for data and information will reach a fever pitch in the coming decade. An internet capable of meeting this challenge is no longer a hopeful dream, but instead an absolute must.

The world's vast and increasingly advanced submarine cable network is what will keep them all tethered together.

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Categories: Industry Viewpoint · Telecom Equipment · Undersea cables

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4 Comments So Far


  • Mike Jones says:

    The NYT publishing fake news way back in 1987 about sharks eating the Internet, go figure! No wonder the paper is failing.

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