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How does the internet travel across continents?

Do you wonder how an internet user from India can run a website hosted by a server in San Francisco? How someone from Michigan can have a Skype call with someone else from Japan? That is because they are linked to a vast network of physical cables placed on the seabed all over the world. That is how a network connection is delivered from one continent to another. The sea cables are connected to landing stations, which, in turn, extend to the network infrastructure to internet users. Local internet service providers are the ones who manage the infrastructure towards the consumers’ end. For instance, Comcast’s Xfinity has its own home office all over the US, at least in 39 states. Xfinity Internet has multiple deals to choose the different speeds of internet connection to choose from, but their main aim is to provide internet access to their consumers so that they can receive data transmission from Japan or India, or different parts of the world.

Who owns those physical cables under the water?

Large or higher-tier telecom organizations have been managing physical cables under the sea to maintain a network connection across continents all over the world. Managing underwater cables require expensive infrastructure and there are a lot of customers. These physical cables are routed and placed in locations that wouldn’t come in the way of shipping or fishing routes, otherwise, that would make them much more susceptible to damage.

Features of underwater cables

These underwater cords are no wider than a soda can, and they are made of fiber-optic material to withstand the roughness of underwater terrain. For instance, a ship once dropped an anchor off the coast of Kenya and that resulted in the internet disconnection for most parts of the country. Moreover, the underwater cables have the benefit of not being affected by wind, trees, storms, and other destructive forces that could interfere with the network connection. They also don’t require towers to carry them, unlike the cables on land.

How are internet cables laid underwater?

  • Companies that plan to place the physical cables firstly map out the area around the routes, looking for any risks such as underwater landslides, mines, etc. They do this with the help of sonar that is sent by vessels out in the sea.
  • When the route is all clear, they load the cable into a laying vessel, whose function is to lay cables onto the sea beds. Industries do not just use one laying vessel, rather they need around 50 laying vessels to place the cables on the whole route. Also just loading the cables onto vessels can take weeks.
  • As soon as the laying vessels leave the port, they start spooling the physical cable behind them. Once the cable goes into the deeper water, the vessels deploy an underwater plow that can dig a trench into the seabed to lay the cables. In a way, the natural action of the sea waves can also cover up the cables.
  • Every 100 kilometers, an amplifier is loaded with the cables onto the sea, which helps to boost the signal and keep the data moving. The fiber-optic cables, although the strongest cables in the world, begin to loosen weaken as well, which is what the amplifier is for.
  • When the laying vessels finally reach their destination, they are not able to reach up to the shore. For this purpose, cables are unloaded onto the surface with the help of buoys, which are further guided into position by smaller boats.
  • Finally, the cables are brought up to the beach where they are dropped into ready-made trenches that lead to the landing station.

From the landing station, these cables are connected to the consumers’ end and ready to transmit data from one location to another, giving a chance to billions of people to stream the internet.

Interesting facts about the underwater physical cables

  • The laying of internet cables is no easy feat. The underwater sea level is thousands of miles long and it can be as long as Everest. While mapping out the whole route, care is taken to avoid any sunken ships, fish beds, coral reefs, or other obstacles or underwater habitats. The cable is made to be placed on flat surfaces of the ocean floor.
  • There has also been some visual proof of sharks gnawing at the communication cables on the ocean floor. These cables are made to withstand all sorts of damage but sharks or other wild sea animals going around them are still a threat.
  • If some construction workers dig into the ground and accidentally break some physical cables, that would disrupt the internet connection of the whole neighbourhood. But that is never the case for physical cables under the sea, rather they are disrupted by aquatic threats or underwater natural disasters.
  • There are hundreds of satellites orbiting around the Earth’s sphere yet and it seems self-evident that the satellite would be a better technology for providing an internet connection to the whole world. But satellite internet connection still experiences latency and packet loss, and it is no comparison to the fiber cables that are being used on land and under the seas. With a fiber internet connection, data is transmitted at 99% the speed of light.

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