As reported by the Vox: Cables lying on the seafloor bring the internet to the world. They transmit 99 percent of international data, make transoceanic communication possible in an instant, and serve as a loose proxy for the international trade that connects advanced economies.
Their importance and proliferation inspired Telegeography to make this vintage-inspired map of the cables that connect the internet. It depicts the 299 cables that are active, under construction, or will be funded by the end of this year.
In addition to seeing the cables, you'll find information about "latency" at the bottom of the map (how long it takes for information to transmit) and "lit capacity" in the corners (which shows how much traffic a system can send, usually measured in terabytes). You can browse a full zoomable version here (or a more modern version here).
The cables are so widely used, as opposed to satellite transmission, because they're so reliable and fast: with high speeds and backup routes available, they rarely fail. And that means they've become a key part of the global economy and the way the world connects.
Take, for example, the below map, which lets you slide between a 1912 map of trade routes and Telegeography's map of submarine cables today. The economic interdependence has remained, but the methods and meaning have changed:
|Connections in the South Atlantic are scarce. (Telegeography)|
The analogy between submarine cables and historic trade routes has a lot of caveats: trade routes were determined by geography as well as economic interests, and economic incentives were a lot different then than they are today. It would also be a mistake to overlook physical goods in favor of the internet (just look at those giant container ships). But both then and now, paths across the ocean require investment, trading partners on both sides, and a willingness to take risks. Sailors took the gamble in the past, and tech companies are taking it now.
Submarine cables get big investments from companies looking to explore their own modern trade routes
|Submarine cables in Asia. (TeleGeography)|
Other consortia regularly lay cables to transmit the consumer internet. Each group's control of a submarine cable is an advantage in the information exchange between countries.
Submarine cables are a 150-year-old idea with new potencyThe process for laying submarine cables hasn't changed much in 150 years — a ship traverses the ocean, slowly unspooling cable that sinks to the ocean floor. The SS Great Eastern laid the first continually successful trans-Atlantic cable in 1866, which was used to transmit telegraphs. Later cables (starting in 1956) carried telephone signals.
The optical fibers that actually carry the information are bundled within the larger shell of the cable:
The components include:
- Mylar tape
- Stranded metal (steel) wires
- Aluminum water barrier
- Copper or aluminum tube
- Petroleum jelly (this helps protect the cables from the water)
- Optical fibers
These cables move the videos, trades, gifs, and articles that bring the internet around the world in a matter of milliseconds. And that's the type of advantage any trader — digital or analog — could appreciate.