For Internet infrastructure, $1.5 billion a small price to pay

This summer, the first-ever trans-Arctic undersea fiberoptic cables will be laid to speed up Internet connectivity between London and Tokyo.

It's easy to forget that, at the end of the day, the magical wireless world of broadband Internet comes down to one cable plugged into another.

You can imagine how important that cable becomes, then, when the world's use of said Internet is proliferating at a breakneck pace. And when you're talking about ocean-spanning infrastructure? Well, there's a price to match.

This summer, several icebreakers and cable-laying ships will install the first-ever trans-Arctic Ocean undersea fiberoptic cables, a trio of lines to speed up Internet connectivity between the United Kingdom and Japan. (With London and Tokyo in mind, specifically.)

How much faster, you ask? Sixty milliseconds.

For how much money? Between $600 million and $1.5 billion.

Sebastian Anthony explains the reasoning at ExtremeTech:

The massive drop in latency is expected to supercharge algorithmic stock market trading, where a difference of a few milliseconds can gain (or lose) millions of dollars. It is for this reason that a new cable is currently being laid between the UK and US — it will cost $300 million and shave “just” six milliseconds off the fastest link currently available. The lower latency will also be a boon to other technologies that hinge heavily on the internet, such as telemedicine (and teleconferencing) and education. Telephone calls and live news coverage would also enjoy the significantly lower latency. Each of the fiber optic cables will have a capacity in the terabits-per-second range, which will probably come in handy too.

There's also redundancy to consider: when a continent's Internet is really just one cable plugged into another, it's critical that there are redundant cables in place so that an accidental break -- say, a ship's anchor catches on one -- doesn't send the global economy in a tailspin.

Heady stuff, and a good reminder that our connected technologies' biggest threat is disconnection. There is one question that neither of the pieces linked to in this post addressed, however: who will pay?

Photo: Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. (Destination Arctic Circle/Flickr)

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