Submarine cables tie the world together

Submarine cables tie the world together

Summary: A large part of global communications depends on vast networks of undersea cables, which have been around for about 150 years

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TOPICS: Networking
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  • Porthcurno beach submarine cable 1906

    In the age of GPS, Wi-Fi and tablet devices, it should not be forgotten that the vast majority of the Earth's communications are carried by fibre, rather than over the air.

    The global communications network depends in a large part on the undersea cables that criss-cross the planet's seabeds, capable of carrying more than 50 million phone calls simultaneously. Those cables have been around for about 150 years; here is a look back at the early days in contrast to the present.

    Pictured above is the beach at Porthcurno in Cornwall on the 6 August, 1906, where workers are laying a submarine telegraph cable to Fayal in the Azores.

    The very first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1858. Queen Victoria telegraphed US president James Buchanan to express her congratulations and her fervent wish that the cable "will prove an additional link between the two places whose friendship is founded upon their common interests and reciprocal esteem".

    Rather unfortunately, the cable was destroyed in an accident not long after. A permanent link was established in 1866, when a new cable was unspooled over the seabed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel's ship the SS Great Eastern.

    So important was the cable's role in making the world a smaller place that it was included in a giant fresco in the rotunda of the US Capitol building.

    Photo credit: Cable & Wireless Worldwide

  • Submarine cable 1906 workers

    Workers (above) in 1906 tend to the cable at Porthcurno beach.

    With the completion of the telegraph line to Bombay in 1870 — which was also laid by the SS Great Eastern — Porthcurno became the epicentre of international communications. For almost 100 years, it was home to one of the world's largest telegraph stations and a training college.

    The telegraph station today has been preserved as part of the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum.

    Photo credit: Cable & Wireless Worldwide

  • Ship recovers submarine cable

    Workers lay a modern-day cable (above).

    There are now around 250 submarine systems in operation, with another 19 due to come online in 2011.

    The technology has evolved significantly since the cables of the 19th century. In 1870, the telegraph system could transmit around 10 words a minute. Today, fibre submarine cables can handle 8.4 billion words a second.

    Photo credit: Cable & Wireless Worldwide

Topic: Networking

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