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

TOPICS: Networking

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  • 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

  • Submarine cable reeled in to ship

    In other respects, the science of laying submarine cables has barely changed from the early days.

    The method of recovering cables for repairs is essentially the same — it consists of using a grappling hook on the end of a rope up to five miles long.

    According to Cable & Wireless Worldwide — the company that has inherited much of the world's submarine infrastructure — the rope used today is often more expensive than the cable it recovers.

    Photo credit: Cable & Wireless Worldwide

  • Submarine cable modern day

    Cable & Wireless Worldwide estimates that its submarine network now stretches to around 500,000km, far greater than the distance between the Earth and the moon.

    The company can trace its history back to a consortium led by Sir John Pender in the 1860s, which oversaw the establishment of the first transatlantic cable.

    Given the vital role undersea cables have played in tying the world together, it is worth bearing in mind President Buchanan's reply to Queen Victoria's telegraph on the first transatlantic cable: "It is a triumph more glorious, because far more useful to mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle."

    Photo credit: Cable & Wireless Worldwide

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Topic: Networking

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