(p. B1) Nearly 750,000 miles of cable already connect the continents to support our insatiable demand for communication and entertainment. Companies have typically pooled their resources to collaborate on undersea cable projects, like a freeway for them all to share.
But now Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America.
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(p. B7) Inside the ship, workers spool the cable into cavernous tanks. One person walks the cable swiftly in a circle, as if laying out a massive garden hose, while others lie down to hold it in place to ensure it doesn’t snag or knot. Even with teams working around the clock, it takes about four weeks before the ship is loaded up with enough cable to hit the open sea.
The first trans-Atlantic cable was completed in 1858 to connect the United States and Britain. Queen Victoria commemorated the occasion with a message to President James Buchanan that took 16 hours to transmit.
While new wireless and satellite technologies have been invented in the decades since, cables remain the fastest, most efficient and least expensive way to send information across the ocean. And it is still far from cheap: Google would not disclose the cost of its project to Chile, but experts say subsea projects cost up to $350 million, depending on the length of the cable.
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Poor weather is inevitable. Swells reach up to 20 feet, occasionally requiring the ship captain to order the subsea cable to be cut so the ship can seek safer waters. When conditions improve, the ship returns, retrieving the cut cable that has been left attached to a floating buoy, then splicing it back together before continuing.
Work on board is slow and plodding. The ship, at sea for months at a time, moves about six miles per hour, as the cables are pulled from the giant basins out through openings at the back of the ship.
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“It really is management of a very complex multidimensional chess board,” said Ms. Stowell of Google, who wears an undersea cable as a necklace.
Demand for undersea cables will only grow as more businesses rely on cloud computing services. And technology expected around the corner, like more powerful artificial intelligence and driverless cars, will all require fast data speeds as well. Areas that didn’t have internet are now getting access, with the United Nations reporting that for the first time more than half the global population is now online.
“This is a huge part of the infrastructure that’s making that happen,” said Debbie Brask, the vice president at SubCom, who is managing the Google project. “All of that data is going in the undersea cables.”
For the full story, see:
ADAM SATARIANO. “Underwater Freeways for Your Puppy Posts.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MARCH 12, 2019): B1 & B6-B7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2019, and has the title “How the Internet Travels Across Oceans.”)