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So you thought the Internet was in the clouds

Under The Sea_02.png

You know how everyone keeps talking about the internet being “in the cloud”, leaving you to wonder how the hell the boxes and cabling doing all the work don’t come plummeting down to earth on a regular basis?

I am more than willing to bet that most of you are probably smarter than me, and have realised that this is introduction is slightly tongue-in-cheek. So yes, the internet is actually connected via the depths of the planet’s least explored region – the sea. Right next to Spongebob Squarepant’s pineapple under the sea.

Under the sea

But in all seriousness… the internet is actually connected by around 300 fibre optic cables that are responsible for 99% of the connectivity that we have all become so reliant on in the modern world. The cables are owned by private companies and consortiums, and if an (unlikely) worldwide cable failure were to occur, it will be a series of satellites that would be the backup we would all have to rely on.

Considering the depth of some of the cables laid around the world (and the multiple paths of said cables), the likelihood of that happening is pretty small. In some instances – such as in the Japan Trench – the cables are laid deeper underwater (over 9km) than Mount Everest is high and while it has become common for ships with trailing anchors to damage cables, they can also be affected by acts of nature, including shark bites and earthquakes. And pirates.

To try and prevent the damage to the cables, modern lines are buried using a plow, while the cables themselves are around 69 millimetres in diameter (and weigh around 10 kilograms per metre) and feature a number of protective layers, including petroleum jelly (or Vaseline if you prefer), steel and an aluminium water barrier.

Internet Cables_01.JPG 

It’s not as modern as you think

But if you think that all of this clever underwater cable laying is something new, you are quite wrong. The first use of an underwater cable to communicate happened as far back as 1842 in New York when Charles Wheatstone sent a telegraph via a wire insulated with tarred hemp and India rubber. It didn’t take much longer (1850 in fact) before the first commercial cable was laid in the English Channel, at which point the floodgates (yes, yes, I know what I did) slowly opened leading to the connection of all continents expect Antarctica.      

Space, the final frontier

However, those controlling the internet are indeed looking to the clouds for the next leap, with cellphone towers, Facebook satellites and Google’s balloons already in use in regions where cable-based solutions are not economically viable, but the latency inherent with these solutions is still seeing the undersea cable being the choice of most service providers - and for gamers.

Source: Vox


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