the real geography of the internet and how it’s done

In 1901 the British Eastern Telegraph Company (nowadays Cable & Wireless) created this map of their cables both submarine and terrestrial around the world.

I find it remarkable that as early as 1901, much of the world was connected by only one company, of course it was not the only one. Click to enlarge.

These cables didn’t get turned into internet cables. But yes, they still exist, and are still at the bottom of the ocean left dormant since the copper cables’ bandwidth is too small compared to fiber and aren’t economical to use. The last copper cables went out in 1994, with the first fiber optic being laid down in 1988. [source]

In 1858, Cyrus West Field and the Atlantic Telegraph Company completed the first telegraph cable across the Atlantic ocean. Queen Victoria sent a congratulatory message to President James Buchanan in a matter of minutes, when a message used to take about 10 days by ship. The first cable proved structurally unsound, and it was not until the 1870s that a really robust transatlantic cable system was put in place. The technology involved is, of course, obsolete today. But as we are living through a revolution in information technology, it’s worth reflecting on the even more drastic improvement in communications that was achieved by 19th-century telegraphs.

Behold the way how all internet connections work to achieve communication anywhere in the world. This is due to a special wiring for data transmissions of voice and data worldwide.

This wiring is submarine as it is installed in the deep sea, crossing oceans and connecting masses of people at very high speeds.

And this is how it’s made:

As relevant fact, connections are 95% internet access worldwide — only 5% of hits are made via satellite.

The following image gives us a general idea of ​​the average speeds between continents considering illustratively:

So you can ask yourself what type of wire is capable of supporting the large ocean currents, storms, hurricanes, salinity and other threats of the ocean?

The following image shows the components designed exclusively for these missions:

  1. Polyethylene. It acts an insulation and an outer sheath.
  2. Mylar tape. Flexible, lightweight, waterproof and wear resistant material.
  3. Stranded steel wires. Two aluminum layers protect our internet connection against water,
  4. while two other layers of steel wire up the frame to withstand water pressure, trawl nets, shark bites and earthquakes.
  5. Polycarbonate insulator.
  6. Copper or aluminum tube. Protects the optical fiber and its ductility and malleability are very good.
  7. Petroleum jelly. It facilitates the installation and reduces the friction between cable and duct.
  8. Optical fibers. The information goes through ultrathin fibers.

Well now we know how the wiring is composed. But what about its diameter and thickness?

TeleGeography’s website allows us to perform a study related to the links between countries and continents called backbones. It’s definitely worth a look.

Sources: Telegeography.com, Conecti.ca, Eroski Consumer.

To read more on this matter’s history, check Wikipedia’s article regarding submarine communications cable.

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11 comments

  1. dtgruber · June 10, 2014

    This is great stuff, Thank you for sharing and putting together this type info. It is amazing how most of us have no clue about how world around us works.

    Liked by 1 person

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