Ever since the advent of the Internet, there has been a common myth that Internet traffic travels through satellites. That is not true. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s Internet traffic travels through subsea cables that are laid on the ocean bed, like the cable shown in the picture (image, left). The oceans cover over seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface and the explosive growth of the Internet that we are experiencing is constantly challenging us to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure in the oceans to handle the growth.
Northern Virginia, also known as the “Data Center Alley” is not only the mecca of data centers in the world, but also has the most abundant fiber optic cable network installed underneath its roads, pavements, medians and sidewalks. This has resulted in an astounding statistic: upwards of seventy percent of the world’s Internet traffic passes through Northern Virginia. It is striking to note that up until now, all of that traffic when it leaves the eastern seaboard of the U.S., travels either north making its way to New York or New Jersey, or south, making its way to the Miami area, where landing stations exist connecting the land to ocean to get to the outside world. This land-ocean-land connection happens by virtue of subsea cables that are connecting two sea ports between countries, and often, between different continents altogether.
Why are subsea cables important? They are important because of the unimaginable growth of the Internet, and the way the Internet has been intertwined into our lives. The use of the Internet from wearable tech, to autonomous cars, to Internet-enabled toasters and refrigerators, is just the beginning and we have barely scratched the surface in the potential adoption of the Internet. The Internet has drastically changed the taxi, hotel and so many more industries. It has given us the freedom and power. Corporate America is moving their IT infrastructure out of their facilities, and placing it in the hands of the shared technology czars, who are managing enterprise data and making sure it is accessible by users in a cost-effective model.
Extremely connected is the world that we live in – from WiFi at the airports, railway stations, inside airlines, on cruise ships – to fast fiber connection in our homes, we often take this WiFi enablement for granted. Without fiber cables, there would be no streaming a 4K movie from the comfort of our reclining sofas. We wouldn’t have the ability to get the content and data when we want it, where we want it and how we want it.
Fascinatingly, these fiber cables (image, right) are thinner than human hair and about 1,000 times stronger. The light transmitted through these cables carries all of our data from one point to the other, from one city to the other, from one state to the other, from one country to the other, and from one continent to the other.
The transoceanic cables connecting continents together is not a new concept – the very first trans-oceanic was laid on the ocean bed over 150 years ago in the 1850s. There are currently over 350 subsea cables carrying Internet traffic daily on the ocean beds, and over 40 active subsea cable projects underway across the world. We are doing a great job feeding the sharks. Yes, the sharks still look forward to biting on these cables, and it remains to be a persistent problem on the ocean bed.
These cables are extremely expensive to build and operate – typically few hundred million dollars. A cable can easily cost in the vicinity of $300-$400 million dollars and take about two to three years from the concept to operational. In that time period, there is the feasibility study that is done and you need to acquire permits and licensing; as you can imagine crossing international waters involves multiple countries and their laws.
For the very first time in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are going to have a direct fiber cable crossing the Atlantic. This cable (click on image, above, to enlarge) will connect Virginia Beach to Bilbao, Spain. Co-owned by Microsoft, Facebook and Telxius (the subsea cable company, owned by Telefonica, the Spanish carrier), the cable, called MAREA (Spanish for “Tide”), when installed and operational will be the fastest cable crossing the Atlantic ocean ever. The second cable under development is BRUSA, connecting Virginia Beach to Puerto Rico to Brazil. A third project under final stages of consideration is Midgardsormen, which will connect Virginia Beach to Blaabjerg, Denmark. In addition, there are nine additional cable projects under consideration. Understandably, not all of these projects will see the day of the light (literally speaking); but by the time some of these projects become a reality, I am sure there will be additional new projects under consideration.
On July 13, Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) held its Data Center and Cloud Infrastructure Committee meeting on the topic Subsea Cables Coming to Virginia Beach; What It Means for Virginia and the World. The distinguished panel included speakers from Telxius, AcquaComms, NxtVn, the City of Virginia Beach, with special cable samples and maps provided by TE SubCom.
Part 2 of the meeting will be held later this year and will focus on bringing the subsea capacity from Virginia Beach to Northern Virginia and other parts of the country. If you are interested in participating in Part 2 of the meeting, please contact Vinay Nagpal at email@example.com.
You can view the presentation slides from the July 13 meeting by clicking here or viewing below.