Some of the very largest Internet content companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft are actively engaged in moving from routing data through traditional carriers to installing their own cables – under the ocean. After all, the shortest distance between international networks is a straight line through the ocean, as was recently pointed out in a special “Tech-The Year Ahead” edition of Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Ships have been laying cable across the ocean floor since 1866, when the SS Great Eastern laid the first trans-Atlantic telegraphic cable. That cable was capable of transmitting eight words per minute. Today’s fiber-optic trans-Atlantic cable can transmit one hundred terabytes a second.
Facebook and Microsoft have joined with a Spanish broadband provider to lay a private trans-Atlantic cable, divvying up its 8 fiber optic strands in the next year. Other tech companies are engaged in similar effort, across both major oceans. In effect, these companies are underwriting the next generation of capacity in an ever-growing demand for internet content and bandwidth. Worldwide, Bloomberg notes, 33 cable projects are scheduled to be online by 2018.
In addition to more fiber cables, there are other ways to expand bandwidth around the world, and companies are actively pursuing those too, including satellites, lasers and drones, to name just three where Facebook has active projects. Google has experimented with hot air balloons.
So far, undersea cables have proved the most cost effective means of providing bandwidth across oceans – they’re cheaper, reliable and largely unregulated. Under United Nations jurisdiction, cable installers are pretty much able to lay cables wherever they please, as long as they don’t interfere with existing ones.
So there you have it: Silicon Valley pouring billions into technology pioneered in the telegraph era, in an all-out effort to take hold of our destiny. And as Microsoft’s CTO Mark Russinovich notes, “We’re nowhere near done being built out.”