Ask a Techspert: What’s a subsea cable?

Wow, 400! Does the world need more of them?

Yes! Telecommunications providers alongside technology companies are still building them around the world. At Google, we invest in subsea cables for a few reasons: One, our Google applications and Cloud services keep growing. This means more network demand from people and businesses in every country around the world. And more demand means building more cables and upgrading existing ones, which have less capacity than their modern counterparts.

Two, you cannot have a single point of failure when you’re on a mission to connect the world’s information and make it universally accessible. Repairing a subsea cable that goes down can take weeks, so to guard against this we place multiple cables in each cross section. This gives us sufficient extra cable capacity so that services aren’t affected for people around the world.

What’s your favorite fact about subsea cables?

Three facts, if I may!

First, I love that we name many of our cables after pioneering women, like Curie for Marie Curie, which connects California to Chile, and Grace Hopper, which links the U.S., Spain and the U.K. Firmina, which links the U.S., Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, is named after Brazil’s first novelist, Maria Firmina dos Reis.

Second, I’m proud that the cables are kind to their undersea homes. They’re environmentally friendly and are made of chemically inactive materials that don’t harm the flora and fauna of the ocean, and they generally don’t move around much! We’re very careful about where we place them; we study each beach’s marine life conditions and we adjust our attachment timeline so we don’t disrupt a natural lifecycle process, like sea turtle nesting season. For the most part they’re stationary and don’t disrupt the ocean floor or marine life. Our goal is to integrate into the underwater landscape, not bother it.

And lastly, my favorite fact is actually a myth: Most people think sharks regularly attack our subsea cables, but I’m aware of exactly one shark attack on a subsea cable that took place more than 15 years ago. Truly, the most common problems for our cables are caused by people doing things like fishing, trawling (which is when a fishing net is pulled through the water behind a boat) and anchor drags (when a ship drifts without holding power even though it has been anchored).

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