10 Facts About The Internet’s Undersea Cables: All You Should Know

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10 facts about the internet's undersea cables

Wires comprise internet service and without wires, you can’t access the internet. Even after tons of internet advancements, we haven’t reached the point where we can access high-speed internet service without wires. Humans are surrounded by wires, from telephone wires to the bundle of wires buried beneath us. To make things simple, the internet is just a big plate of noodles, all of them interconnected with each other. All the cables we see around us is just a limited portion of what’s actually out there, most of the cables are buried deep underneath the ocean. Fascinating right? Ever wondered how do undersea internet cables work? Here are the top 10 facts about the internet’s undersea cables.

1. The Installation is Slow, Tough and Expensive

Do you know that 99% of international data is transmitted by wires underseas? These wires are called submarine communication cables. These wires are hundreds of thousands of miles long and they can be as deep as 8,000 meters. The cables are installed with the help of special boats called cable-layers. 

Installing cables undersea is more than just dropping them into the ocean with the help of an anvil. They have to run flat across the surface of the ocean and avoid coral reef and other substances that may harm the cables. The diameter of cables that are spread under the ocean is close to the diameter of a soda can. 

The cables located at the shallow end are buried below the ocean bed using high-pressure water jets. Per mile cable installation cost varies on total length and destination, still running cables underseas costs about hundreds of millions of dollars. 

2. Sharks Try to Eat Internet

If you don’t know it already, then let us tell you that sharks love to chew down on the submarine communications cables. The reason isn’t clear about this, but many people believe it’s because of the electromagnetic fields. Maybe the sharks are just curious as to what’s down there. The fact remains, the sharks are eating on the internet cables, they sometimes render the cables useless and sometimes heavily affecting it. To save themselves from spending millions of dollars over and over again, companies are now wrapping cables on shark-proof wire wrappers. 

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3. Internet is As Vulnerable Under Seas and Above Seas

Every few years, some boat or ship hits something and disrupts certain services for the whole continent. While the ocean is free of construction equipment but there are still tons of threats to internet underseas. The Internet is ever at risk of being disrupted by boat anchors, fishing vessels, and natural disasters. 

A Toronto based company has proposed running a cable through the arctic that connects to Tokyo to London. Earlier this proposal was considered impossible but now due to climate change and polar ice caps melting, it is possible and extremely expensive.

4. Underseas Cables aren’t New

How the internet works undersea cables? Well, it may surprise you to know that underseas cables aren’t exactly new. The first-ever installation began back in 1854. It was a transatlantic telegraph cable that connected Newfoundland and Ireland.

Four years later, the first-ever message was sent that read, “Laws, Whitehouse received five minutes signal. Coil signal too weak to relay. Try drive slow and regular. I have put intermediate pulley. Reply by coils.” 

Whitehouse referred to Wildman Whitehouse, the chief electrician of Atlantic telegraph company.

5. Spies Loved the Underwater Cables

This is probably the most interesting fact of the 10 facts about the internet’s undersea cables. During the peak of the Cold War, the USSR frequently transmitted weakly encoded messages between its two major naval bases. Strong encryption was troublesome and overkill, Soviet officers in the bases were linked by an undersea cable. 

There was no way Americans would risk getting involved in World War 3 by trying to tap the wires. However, the U.S.S Halibut, a special submarine was able to slip past the soviet nation’s defenses. The American submarine found the cable used by spies and installed a giant wiretap, that used to return monthly to deliver the information it had gathered. This operation was called IVY BELLS, which was later compromised by an NSA analyst who sold information on this mission to the Soviet nation. 

In today’s time, tapping submarine communication cables is a standard procedure for all the spy agencies. 

6. The government are Using Submarine Cables to Avoid Spies

Major lines of data tend to cross into the American borders, which makes wiretapping a child’s play. When the NSA analyst finally sold this information to other nations, all of them were enraged to learn about the tactics that American Spy agencies were using to tap and interpret foreign data. 

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As a result, some countries are considering changing their infrastructure of the internet to save themselves from wiretapping. Brazil has launched a project to build submarine communications cables in Portugal so it bypasses American borders completely and stops US companies from involvement. 

7. Submarine Communications Cables are Cheaper and Faster than Satellite.

There are more than a thousand satellites in circulation. We are constantly advancing ourselves and reaching new destinations. Till now we should have found a better way of using wireless connections. Our current methods of using thousands of miles long cables under the ocean seem outdated. Have you ever thought, What is the longest fiber optic cable running under the ocean?

Some might say satellites are a better technology and we should advance it but as it turns out, Satellite internet technology is not the best out there. Both fiber optics cables and satellite technology were developed in the 1960s. Satellite internet technology has two major problems, “Latency & Bit loss”, sending and receiving data from space takes a lot of time. Fiber optical cables on the other hand can transmit data at almost the speed of light. 

If you ever wish to experience how the internet would be without underseas cables, visit Antarctica. It’s the only place in the world that still has a physical connection to the net, the continent relies completely on satellites. The bandwidth over there is on a premium, which is not a small problem when you consider all the work researchers do over there. Today, Antarctic research stations create more data than they can transmit using satellites. 

8. Breaking the Internet is Easy

Cyber Warfare sounds scary and it should, but to bring internet connectivity of any country on its knees, you just have to cut submarine communications cables. Theoretically, it is really difficult cutting through the cables because of thousands of lethal volts running through the cables. 

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It is not impossible though, as seen in Egypt 2013. A group of men were apprehended in the north of Alexandria. Few men in wetsuits were caught having intentionally cut through the South-East-Asia-Middle-East-West-Europe 4 cable that runs 12,500 miles long underseas. The cable connects three continents. Internet speeds in Egypt were reduced to just 40% of their original capabilities until the line was replaced. 

9. Underwater Cables are Tough to Replace

If you think changing your Ethernet cable behind your desk is tough then try replacing an underwater solid cable. Whenever a submarine communication cable is damaged, special repair ships are sent to the location. If the cable is in the shallow waters then the robots will carry it to the surface. If the cable is in deep water (6500 feet or more), the ships grab onto the cable and hoist it up for repairs. To make things a little easier, sometimes the repair ships cut the damaged cables into two and pull the wires on the water to mend them separately. 

10. Undersea Internet is a Backbone That Will Last 25 Years. 

In 2014, there were 285 submarine communications cables in the sea. 22 of them are not in use currently. These unused cables are known as “Dark cables.” Once the cables are turned on they emit lights. All the submarine cables have a life of about 25 years, which is economically efficient.

Since the last decade, global data usage has increased beyond measure. In 2013 internet traffic was 5 gigabit per capita, this number grew to 13 gigabits per capita in 2018. This much usage will cause nations to invest more in the cables and upgrading them. New techniques in phase modulation have increased the capacity of cables in some areas by as much as 800%. So, the wires we currently have are more than capable to handle the upcoming surge in internet usage and traffic.

Conclusion: How Do Underseas Internet Cables Work?

Underseas internet cable plays a vital role in keeping the internet running smoothly globally. Technical advancements are being made continuously that are making the internet infrastructure even stronger. We hope this article helped you learn more about how the internet works undersea cables. 

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