When we go about our days Slacking, Zooming, WhatsApping and TikToking we might not think about how the transfer of all this data across the internet is facilitated by massive submarine communications cables at the bottom of the ocean.
These thousands of cables use optical fibres that carry data as pulses of light travelling at over 200,000 km per second in order to keep us connected.
And, of all the companies involved in the submarine cable business, Google is one of the biggest, with partial ownership of 8.5 per cent of all the submarine cables around the world.
The tech giant is ready to add another cable to its bow with the announcement of plans to build a new undersea network cable which will connect Cornwall in the UK, New York in the US and Bilbao in Spain. The project is expected to be completed by 2022. The link with Spain is part of Google’s wider investment in the country, including an upcoming Google Cloud region in Madrid.
“Private subsea cables allow us to plan effectively for the future capacity needs of our customers and users around the world, and add a layer of security beyond what’s available over the public internet,” said Google.
Called Grace Hopper ,after the US computer scientist and naval rear admiral who led the team which created the COBOL programming language, the cable will feature new technology that will be a significant upgrade to older existing lines, said Google. The cable will feature 16 fibre pairs, more than any cable in use today, and double the current fastest cable, jointly owned by Microsoft and Facebook, which has eight fibre pairs.
In addition, the Grace Hopper will use new optical fibre switching techniques which will increase the reliability of data transfer and allow Google to move internet traffic around even when there are outages.
Though there have been attempts to use satellites to transfer data in this way, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink project, it’s cheaper and faster to move it via cables.
There are other benefits to using undersea cables. A recent experiment with one of Google’s cables showed it has the potential to be used for earthquake and tsunami warning systems. The company’s global networking team has used the existing fibre in the cables to detect disturbances on the seafloor such as earthquakes emanating from tectonic plates and detect pressure change in the ocean which can lead to tsunamis.
“Millions of kilometers of fibre optic networks already span the globe, operated by governments, telecommunications providers, and technology companies such as ourselves. By collaborating with the global subsea cable community, we may be able to improve the world’s ability to detect and research seismic activity around the world,” said Google.