Communication technology has reached new heights – or length, perhaps, depending upon the context. Microsoft, Facebook, and telecom infrastructure company Telxius have jointly laid a giant 4,000-mile-long transatlantic cable between North America and Spain, enhancing the world of communications forevermore.
It has the capacity of 160-terabits per second, equal to streaming 70 million HD videos at the same time. This is the highest capacity subsea cable to have ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Operational by early 2018, the cable is 16 million times faster than the average Internet connection, so claims Microsoft.
Named Marea (Spanish for “tide,”), the cable lies 17,000 feet below the ocean surface and stretches between Virginia Beach in the US and the city of Bilbao, Spain. Microsoft is hopeful that this cable will prevent the disruption of communication systems between the two countries in the event of natural disasters like hurricanes. This will benefit Microsoft and Facebook most of all because both of these companies have large data operation centers in Virginia.
Microsoft president, Brad Smith said that it was about time a system like Marea was developed because submarine cables in the Atlantic carry double the data carried by trans-Pacific cables, and with the demand increasing every year, the need for more transatlantic submarine cables also increases. Made of eight pairs of fiber optic cable, Marea mostly lies on the ocean floor, though some parts of it are buried for protection against shipping traffic.
Marea will help establish a faster and stronger telecommunications link not only between the US and Europe, but also between other countries like Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, where a billion of future Internet users are supposed to come from. The complex process took the engineers over five months to load and place the cable along the seabed.
Subsea cable technology is nothing new in the grand scheme of things. The very first transatlantic cable was laid by Cyrus Field in 1858, in order to connect the New World with the old. His grandiose attempt was deemed as ‘raising a ladder to the moon.’ Field was one of the few people in those days who understood the importance of a communications link between the major nations of the world.
So when a project to link Canada to New York was almost on the brink of bankruptcy, it gave Field an idea to connect the two nations via Newfoundland. In 1856, Field bought the failing cable company and turned it to the Atlantic Telegraph Company. Thus began his attempt to bring the idea to life.
Although the first transatlantic telegraph cable was a successful attempt, it only functioned for three weeks. Attempts were made again in 1865 and 1866 that were more successful, but they weren’t long-lasting either. Those were early days, and the engineers had yet to master the technology needed to not only run, but also sustain an undersea cable.
Despite the short lifespan of these first cables, they were hailed as the ‘eighth wonder of the world,’ as it enabled faster communication between nations. In a way, this was one of the earliest steps towards globalization. The first transatlantic telephone cable system was laid between Scotland and Newfoundland in 1956. The first transoceanic fiber-optic cable was laid in 1988, connecting the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. This was the first set of fiber optic cables to ever be used. They turned out to be much faster and more efficient than traditional copper lines.
All cables currently not only use fiber optic technology, but also fiber optic transmission, and a self-healing ring topology. So efficient are these cables that by the late 1900s, communications satellites lost most of their North Atlantic telephone traffic, thanks to these cables that are low cost, while providing high capacity and low latency.
With time, cables have only gotten more advanced. The tighter they are, the higher speed they provide. Transatlantic cables laid after 2012 take the latency to under 60 milliseconds. More than 99 percent of international communication is routed through fiber optic cables situated at the bottom of oceans.
As the need for faster and more efficient communication has risen over the years, technology has also kept pace and never stopped advancing. There are modern innovations like cloud computing and artificial intelligence that are not only changing the way we use the internet, but also proving beneficial to society on a multitude of levels. For instance, video content was thought to be only for entertainment purposes till a few years ago. Now, a lot of industries use video content to take their services to more people.
This includes the healthcare industry, where features like telemedicine and video connections are becoming more prevalent; the education industry where high-quality distance learning is shaping the future; and various other businesses where virtual offices are replacing the need to have land-based offices. The new MAREA cable will enable business in Spain to easily operate in the US with the help of virtual communication.
Marea was made possible by the strong collaboration between the US and Spain. The project received tremendous support from Spain, with multiple ministries of the Spanish government approving and facilitating the application for the installation permit for the cable landing in Bilbao.
On the other hand, the US landing was quickly approved by the federal government in Washington, D.C., supported by the authorities in Virginia. Although the process could have taken several years, the strong communication between the two nations, plus the immediate sense of urgency enabled the project to be completed in a little over two years.
Instead of depending on telecom companies to provide the infrastructure for new communication links, tech giants are funding new cables themselves. Like Microsoft and Facebook, tech giant Google has also invested in two subsea cables that run from the US to South America, Japan, and other Asian countries.
With the new Marea subsea cable, Facebook and Microsoft will have more control over the huge amounts of data that they need to transmit around the world in the shortest possible time. A lot of their services – from Office 365 to Instagram – will benefit from the technology without a doubt.