The Internet is a means of communication that we use frequently in our daily lives and has become almost indispensable. So what do we know about the ocean/submarine cable system that makes up the Internet? In this article, we will look at 10 interesting facts about the subject that little is known about.
1. Cable installation is slow and expensive
More than 95% of international Internet data is transmitted over hundreds of thousands of miles of submarine communications cables. Laying these cables is quite laborious and expensive. Special cable laying vessels move carefully to avoid obstacles such as ecological habitats when laying cables on the ocean floor.
The diameter of the cables varies depending on their depth. Cables in shallow water are slightly larger, and in deep water they are about the size of a handle. Less protection is required at depth, so pipes placed in deeper waters are thinner. Cables placed in shallow water are buried under the ocean floor using high-pressure water jets.
Installation of submarine cables is rather slow and expensive. Installation prices per meter vary depending on the total length and purpose. But in any case, stretching the cable under the oceans costs hundreds of millions of dollars. However, we cannot imagine the Internet we use today without these cables.
2 Sharks Are Trying To Eat The Internet
Sharks sometimes gnaw through underwater communication cables, we don’t know exactly why they do it. Some think it has to do with electromagnetic fields, while others say they are just curious. Luckily, shark gnaws on cables account for less than 1% of cable failures. But companies like Google use special coatings to protect their cables from sharks.
3. The Internet is just as vulnerable underwater as it is underground.
Every few years, builders accidentally cut wires, interrupting the internet. In addition to sharks, there are many threats to cables in the ocean. Ship anchors and fishing boats pull on the cables, and sometimes natural disasters can cause outages. The company has proposed laying cables connecting Tokyo and London across the Arctic. It used to be considered impossible, but thanks to climate change and the melting of the ice, it is now possible, but so expensive.
4. Connecting the world with submarine cables is very old.
In 1854, the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable began, connecting Newfoundland and Ireland. It took four years to lay this cable, and finally the first message was sent.
The construction of this four-year-old cable began so long ago that Charles Dickens was still writing novels at the time. The current Dallas, a small community in Texas, was recently founded, and Abraham Lincoln, a candidate for the United States Senate, delivered his “A House Divided” speech.
5. Spies love submarine cables.
During the Cold War, the USSR often passed messages between two important naval bases. Soviet officials believed that strong encryption was not needed, since these bases were directly connected by a cable laid in the territorial waters of the USSR, filled with sensors.
However, the USS Halibut, a special submarine that could evade Soviet defenses, was involved. American troops found the Russian cable and set up a giant listening device, collecting the monthly data it records. This operation was called IVY BELLS, and then Ronald Pelton, a former NSA analyst, sold information about the mission to the USSR, putting the operation in jeopardy.
Today, it has become a standard task for agents to connect to submarine communications cables.
6. Electronic espionage has become a global problem due to submarine cables.
When it comes to electronic espionage, the US has a significant advantage. American scientists, engineers, and companies have been instrumental in inventing and building large portions of the global telecommunications infrastructure. Because of this, many data lines intersect with America, making radio eavesdropping much easier.
However, when the stolen documents of former NSA analyst Edward Snowden surfaced, many countries were outraged by the extent to which US intelligence agencies eavesdrop on foreign data. After this incident, some countries began to rethink their Internet infrastructure. As in the case of Brazil, some countries have begun launching projects that bypass the US altogether and specifically exclude the participation of US companies.
These events have raised concerns about how the Internet infrastructure works and how data is transferred. Therefore, many countries around the world are looking for alternative solutions to protect their data.
As a result, it becomes clear that electronic espionage has become a global problem. However, the fact that countries are looking for different ways to protect their data leads to interesting discussions about the future of Internet infrastructure.
7. These communication cables are faster and cheaper than satellites.
As of 2022, there are over 5,000 satellites in orbit. However, the notion that there is a better way to access the Internet than laying long cables across the ocean floor is misleading. Communications satellites and fiber optic cables were developed in the 1960s, but satellite transmission faces two fundamental problems: delay and data loss. While it takes time to send and receive signals from space, researchers can transmit information using optical fibers at nearly the speed of light. Those who dream of underwater wireless internet can visit Antarctica. Antarctica is the only continent that does not have a physical Internet connection, and its bandwidth is very limited due to satellite dependency. This is a big problem for important research, such as data-intensive climate studies.
8. To turn off the internet, all you need is snorkeling gear and a pair of wire cutters.
Submarine communication cables are one of the most important infrastructures that provide Internet access around the world. But unfortunately, these cables can be cut and these interruptions can cause severe disruption to internet services.
Fortunately, cutting these wires is quite difficult. Each wire is powered by thousands of deadly volts. However, an incident in Egypt in 2013 showed that cuts were possible. North of Alexandria, a group of divers deliberately cut the Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 4 cable. This cable is 12,500 miles long and connects three continents. As a result of a cable break, the Internet speed in Egypt dropped by 60% and this problem continued until the line was repaired.
Cutting underwater communication cables can cause serious problems with Internet services. However, it is quite difficult to cut it, as thousands of volts pass through the cable. However, events show that a hack is possible. Therefore, ISPs must take various precautions to keep these cables secure.
9. Submarine cables are not easy to repair, but we have learned something in 150 years.
When a submarine cable is damaged, repairing it can be quite a challenge. Especially if the cable is deep in the ocean. In this case, special repair ships are sent. If the cable is in shallow water, the robots will catch the cable and bring it to the surface. However, if the cable length is 6500 feet or more, specially designed hooks are used. These hooks hold the cable and lift it to the surface.
Repair is also not easy. After identifying the damaged section of the cable, the repair team cuts out a section in this place. The two sides of the cable are connected with special fasteners, after which the cable descends back into the sea.
10. Underwater cable network of the Internet is designed for 25 years.
Today, more than 500 communication cables have been laid at the bottom of the world’s seas. The service life of these cables is approximately 25 years, and during this period they economically justify their capabilities. However, data consumption worldwide is growing very fast. While internet traffic was 5 gigabytes per capita in 2013, in 2023 Finland consumes nearly 36 gigabytes of data per month for every broadband subscription. Fortunately, improvements in phase modulation techniques and submarine line terminal equipment have increased the capacity of existing cables in some places by up to 8000%. So our current cables are more than sufficient for today’s traffic.
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