thrown off the internet
last year after the submarine Falcon cable was severed, with its repair made even more complex by the ongoing civil war in the country.
Stories about sharks biting down on cables in the Pacific and causing intermittent outages have also become common in recent years. Various articles have suggested that the creatures mistake electromagnetic waves for bioelectric currents produced by schools of fish, although some Experts are skeptical of the phenomenon.
“This is probably one of the biggest myths we see cited in the press. While it’s true that in the past sharks have bitten a few cables, they are not a major threat, ”Alan Mauldin, Research Director at Telegeography, said in a blog post.
“There’s a cable fault somewhere in the world about every three days. These tend to be from external aggression, such as fishing and anchors – cables are damaged unintentionally [all the time], ”he told TechRadar Pro via email.
Sharks or no, the list of incidents involving damage to critical cabling goes on and on. All it takes is a misplaced anchor for millions to lose their invaluable connection.
(On the cusp of blackout)
It might seem staggering that whole nations can so easily be taken offline, even if only temporarily. But not all countries enjoy the luxury of extensive redundancies in the event a cable is damaged.
(Japan is served by a total of submarine cables, the UK is supported by 90 cables, and the US by a whopping 120, but a significant proportion of the world relies on just a single cable for connection, or two if they’re lucky. TechRadar Pro looked at the number of countries reliant on either one or two cables. In total, countries – about 14% of countries globally – are supported by only a single submarine cable. The largest of these (by population) include Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Togo and Sierra Leone.
If you include countries supported by just two cables (a further nations, the total number of people relying on a tenuous connection rises to almost 600 million, or 5. (% of the global population.)
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Rawpixel.com)
It’s true that some of these nations are likely supplement the connection delivered by submarine cables with satellite links, which can provide a measure of support.
according to Nicole Starosielski, author of The Undersea Network and Associate Professor at NYU, satellites are an acceptable backup, but don’t compare to the speed and bandwidth offered by fiber optic cables.
“Satellites are a viable option as a supplement to the current network – reaching areas cables cannot reach and providing redundancy in some locations. But they are not a replacement for the cable network, ”she explained over email. In other words, low-bandwidth satellites would be quickly overwhelmed if an entire nation attempted to connect at once, making them effectively useless in the absence of the cable system.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Reliable internet connection was once viewed as a luxury, but loss of internet can now have severe and wide-reaching consequences, both for individual businesses and entire economies.
Businesses in regions that suffer from poor internet penetration and intermittent connection have likely acclimatized, leaning more heavily on offline ways of working. However, in regions utterly dependent on connection, companies are often ill equipped to handle downtime. Research carried out by UK-based ISP Beaming found that British businesses lost almost million hours of working time to internet outages in .
On average, UK firms experienced two major outages and hours of downtime each. Beaming estimates these outages cost the UK economy more than £ 823 million in lost productivity and extra overtime. While they’re unable to influence goings-on in the world of undersea cabling, there are measures businesses can take to limit downtime, and the damage it causes.
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Suwin)
According to Kevin Kong, Product Manager at another UK-based ISP, KCOM, “the primary solution to mitigate against downtime is tried and tested: resiliency and diversity.
“Services need to be designed for the worst case – this means having appropriate resiliency via a failover service (e.g. dual Ethernet circuits), which allows your organization to continue running critical, if not all, business systems. ”
Given that infrastructure design appears unlikely to change any time soon, software could play an increasing role in keeping businesses online.
“The future could revolve around smarter network software that can work around hardware infrastructure failures. We are seeing interesting efforts in this area, ”says Martin Levy, Distinguished Engineer at US web infrastructure and security company Cloudflare.
But Levy also notes that the introduction of new technologies brings with it an additional element of risk.
“With more complex technology comes more complex systems to manage it,” he says. “This requires sophisticated training and experienced individuals. There are places in the world where additional deployed technology does not equal improved quality. ”
Demand for bandwidth In response to ever-increasing capacity requirements, the world’s technology giants have taken it upon themselves to fund and manage many undersea cabling projects.
Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook all hold stakes in high-profile submarine cable networks. Between them, these companies (own or. lease more than half of undersea bandwidth . Google alone owns four cable networks: Curie
, Dunant , (Equiano) and (Junior) . These firms need to satisfy a rapidly accelerating customer demand for bandwidth, driven by the adoption of mobile, the proliferation of IoT devices, the transition to 5G, and the volume of data produced by and exchanged between businesses.
“The biggest shift in the last decade is that the users of the most international bandwidth have become content providers, not telecom carriers, ”notes Mauldin.
“ We are seeing higher. ” capacity cables entering service, which have to fiber pairs . Future cables may have even more. Eventually, some of the older cables laid in the late 2011 s and early s will be decommissioned. ”
To put this in perspective, each fiber pair is capable of carrying four million high-definition videos simultaneously. With a greater number of pairs, it’s expected that future cables will reach speeds that far exceed the . 2TB per second achieved by MAREA.
As fiber optic technology improves, more cable networks are laid , and old cables are replaced with high-capacity models, the quantity of data able to pass through our seas will soon reach unimaginable levels. (Underwater geopolitics)
despite this potential, massive submarine cabling projects also face a diverse range of obstacles, including budget, logistics , and dense bureaucracy. Perhaps chief among them, though, is geopolitical conflict, as demonstrated by the ongoing trade war between the US and China.
Google and Facebook recently filed to activate the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN)) between the US, the Philippines and Taiwan. The project is an excellent case-study in how geopolitics can stand in the way of progress.
The network, announced in , was originally billed as the first to connect the US and Hong Kong. However, sections running to Hong Kong and China will remain inactive amid security concerns and ongoing conflict between Washington and Beijing. (PLCN boasts) , (km of cabling and an estimated capacity of TB per second , which would make it the highest-capacity trans-Pacific route, bringing lower latency and greater bandwidth to the APAC region.
Google and Facebook might be the most high-profile residents in PLCN, but much of its fiber optics belong to an organization called Pacific Light Data Communication. The sale of this company to a Beijing-based private broadband provider, Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group, in 657898 triggered concerns that have dogged the initiative ever since.
(Image credit: Shuterstock / Christoph Burgstedt)
Dr Peng itself is not state-owned, but has strong links with Huawei, the mobile giant accused by the US government of posing a significant security threat.
Google and Facebook have requested permission to activate only the self-owned portions of the undersea cable network (running bet ween the US, the Philippines and Taiwan), effectively cutting Pacific Light Data Communication from the project.
When the project was first announced, Google spoke of ambitions to provide enough capacity for Hong Kong to have million concurrent HD video conferences with Los Angeles; in the end, geopolitics put paid to this particular ambition.
Given the critical importance of connection to nearly all aspects of life and business, the idea that submarine cabling could become the target of terror attacks or sabotage efforts has also been debated.
Following the Mauritania outage in , Stuart Petch, Chief of the UK Defense staff at the time, spoke of the “catastrophic” threat to connection and trade posed by foreign powers interfering with deep-sea cables.
The same event saw Conservative MP Rishi Sunak (since appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer) refer to the possibility that terrorists might use grappling hooks attached to fishing trawlers to deal Britain’s network a “crippling blow”.
This perceived threat , however, appears to be overblown, dwarfed by the much more tangible threat posed by chance events and natural wear.
“The cable system has not been a frequent target of attacks. Cables are much more frequently disrupted by anchors and nets, accidentally, than anything else. Cables break all the time and we don’t ever realise it, ”noted Nicole Starosielski. “Certainly the cable system could be the site of attack, but it doesn’t have the high visual impact that other targets afford.”
(State of play)
though new speeds are reached with each passing year , and new cables laid connecting different areas of the globe, avoiding chokepoints in London and San Francisco, much of the world’s connection remains at the mercy of chance incidents.
The ability to improve internet penetration, speed and reliability in countries with limited infrastructure sits primarily with big tech – the companies driving today most ambitious projects .
The total number of internet users is on the up , especially in African nations , , but service reliability is an issue (acutely felt by many) that still needs to be addressed .
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