Across the Sea: New Transoceanic Cables Linking the Globe More Tightly

Carl Weinschenk

Many moments can be identified as important ones in the evolution of telecommunications. The invention of the first telephone, the first vacuum tube, the first transistor – the list goes on and on. A key moment that sometimes is overlooked is the laying of the first transatlantic cable, which ran between Newfoundland and Ireland, in 1858.

It made communications nearly instant. This is no small thing, as seen in this example: The Battle of New Orleans resulted in heavy losses to the American and British forces during the War of 1812. Or, almost during the war. The battle occurred on January 8, 1815, two weeks after The Treaty of Ghent set the end of hostilities for Christmas Eve of 1814. It is fascinating to think that as recently as 200 years ago, people died because there was a two-week delay in telling the combatants that there was no longer a reason to kill each other.

Transoceanic cables have continued to evolve, of course. Last week, Microsoft, Facebook and Telefónica subsidiary Telxius announced completion of the 4,000 mile Marea cable between Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Bilbao, Spain. The project, announced in June 2016, finished ahead of schedule, according to TechNewsWorld. The Marea, “tide” in Spanish, reaches depths of 17,000 feet and will provide 160 terabits per second (Tbps) of capacity. The Spanish terminus provides access to network hubs in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, in addition to Europe.

Not surprisingly, placing cables on the ocean floor is not easy. A Microsoft feature provides the flavor of the task at hand:


The project required charting a course with average depths of almost 11,000 feet and hazards ranging from active volcanoes and earthquake zones to coral reefs. The cable, which is about 1.5 times the diameter of a garden hose, contains eight pairs of fiber optic cables encircled by copper, a hard-plastic protective layer and a waterproof coating. Some portions closer to shore are buried to protect the cable from fishing and ship traffic, but for most of its route, the cable lays on the ocean floor.

This is not the only news in the world of transoceanic telecommunications cables. In August, the switch was flipped on an undersea cable linking Asia, Hawaii, and the mainland of the United States, according to GovTech. According to Daniel Masutomi, the director of Subsea Engineering and Network Optimization at Hawaiian, most of the cables serving Hawaii are maxed out, retired, or close to retirement.

The new cable is 9,000 miles long and will deliver 20 Tbps of data. It was built by the Southeast Asia-United States consortium (SEA-US) and will link Indonesia, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii and California. The story provides interesting insight into how the process was managed. In addition to Hawaiian Telcom, the owners/operators are Globe Telecom (Manila), Tamuning (Guam), GTI (Los Angeles), RTI (San Francisco), Telin (Jakarta) and Telkom USA (Los Angeles).

A third cable project was announced in June. The 100 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Asia-Africa-Europe (AAE-1) cable will span about 15,500 miles between Marseille, France, and Hong Kong. In all, it will connect 21 locations. The Reliance Jio Infocomm press release says that the cable will provide low-latency trafficking. It will be managed at the company’s network operations center (NOC) in Mumbai.

A great overview of undersea telecom cables, including a link to a detailed graphic showing where they are, is available at Business Insider.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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