Industry trends

Submarine optical fiber cable – the strongest technological weapon in the sea

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People have a misunderstanding that data is in the cloud, but in fact, they are in the ocean. As more than half of the world population can access the Internet, so the cloud services are important to them. However, only a few people know that the hidden hero behind the cloud is the ‘submarine cable’. This year’s February, Google announced the construction of Curie, a submarine optical fiber cable from Los Angeles to Chile. This makes Google becoming the first non-telecommunication multinational company to build a private submarine cable. Before this, Google has invested in 14 cables worldwide. The construction of Curie declared the control of global Internet infrastructure. Meanwhile, Microsoft, Facebook and telecommunications infrastructure company Telxius have also built a cable named Marea in the Atlantic Ocean. Marea can transmit 160 terabytes of data per second, 16 million times faster than the average home network connection.

The importance of submarine fiber optical cable

In the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, content providers accounted for more than half of the data transfer bandwidth demand in 2017. In the last decade, the data transfer bandwidth usage of content providers increased dramatically from less than 8% to nearly 40%. The recent network battle undersea revealed the importance of optical cable in the data explosion era.

As the 5G era is coming and its related cable development has become everyone’s focus. In the past, optical fiber cables were mostly owned by telecommunications services providers. However, after the massive development of optical fiber cables in 2016, manufacturers have turned to content suppliers such as Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon. The laying of submarine cables is very strict and time-consuming. The initial cable is only a cluster of tiny glass fiber, by using optic technology data can be transferred to the cable with light speed and connect to the network once reached the land, then the data can be sent to users’ electronic gadgets. All of the well-known network connectivity will eventually connect to the submarine cables, transmitting information to every corner of the world. Whether it is from Taiwan to the United States or from Hong Kong to Japan, the network program code is connected to all continents through submarine cables. There are up till now nearly 1.2 million km of cables network. In the future, we may need a larger cable system to satisfy the needs of sending and receiving messages.

Paying attention to external costs under science and technological development

Despite the rapid development of technology, submarine cables are still the most effective cross-continental contacting method. Optical fiber cables make use of the cable bundles which look like garden hoses to transmit nearly 95-99% of international data. Google expects to have 10,433 miles of optical fiber cables on earth when the construction of Curie has completed. However, it is necessary to build a cable to withstand huge currents, rockfalls, earthquakes and the destruction of trawlers. Although content providers privatizing network infrastructure can offer consumers with cheaper and better services in the short run, we have to reconsider the external costs of the provided service. The Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews pointed out in 2018 that the constructions during installation and decommissioning phases are very large, creating great impacts such as marine habitat disturbances, sediment resuspension, chemical contamination and underwater noise emissions. Long term effects may occur during the operational phase, for example, the risk of an electromagnetic field, heat dissipation and cable tangles, chemical contamination, and resulting artificial reef effects and reserve effects. While pursuing efficient data transmission, we should focus on environmental issues and privacy control. These are some unavoidable and important topics we should not miss when content providers are privatizing cables.

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