Photos: From transatlantic telegraph cables to modern fibre optics

Photos: From transatlantic telegraph cables to modern fibre optics

Summary: The history of the telecoms backbone that spans the earth

TOPICS: Networking

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  • The history of the telecoms backbone that spans the earth

    It is more than 150 years since the first electronic message made its leisurely way across the Atlantic.

    The message from Queen Victoria to US president James Buchanan took 16 hours to transmit in 1858, despite consisting of just 98 words.

    Today, intercontinental missives cross the globe in the blink of an eye and are no longer the preserve of heads of state.

    The global reach of modern communications is built on the high-bandwidth fibre-optic cables that snake across ocean floors, connecting continents.

    UK firm Cable&Wireless Worldwide can chart its history back to the laying of the first reliable commercial transatlantic cables by a consortium of British telegraph companies in 1866.

    SS Great Eastern, an iron steam-powered ship designed by renowned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, played a central role in the laying of these early intercontinental cables, helping to deploy cable both across the Atlantic and from Bombay to Porthcurno in Cornwall.

    The picture above shows the cable ship Colonia arriving to lay a submarine cable from Porthcurno to Fayal in the Azores in 1906.

    Photo credit: Cable&Wireless Worldwide

  • For a period, Porthcurno was the destination of many different cables and home to the biggest cable station in the world. Here is a shot of workers burying one of those early telegraph cables as it came ashore on Porthcurno beach.

    Sending messages remained a slow process in the early days of transatlantic communication. In 1870, information was transmitted at about 10 words per minute - at that rate, it would have taken 37 days to send Tolstoy's War and Peace.

    The cost of sending messages to the US also remained prohibitively expensive. By the time the first commercial message was sent in 1873, sending just 20 words cost £20, the equivalent of £900 today.

    Photo credit: Cable&Wireless Worldwide

Topic: Networking


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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