The Internet comes to you across the bottom of the ocean

Mar 24, 2010 By Phillip F. Schewe, ISNS
An undersea communications cable laying ship. Credit: neptunecanada

The Internet brings you data from around the world almost instantly. This information, coming from Geneva or Tokyo or Buenos Aires, arrives in the U.S. not from satellite but along cables that sit on the bottom of the ocean. Upgrades in many of the components that make up the vast undersea optical fiber network are about to facilitate even more speed and versatility.

The impression that satellites are modern and cables old-fashioned is wrong. Satellites are what you want to beam TV shows to customers scattered over a wide area. But if you want to dispatch lots of information from one point to another -- such as information from Britain to North America -- then optical fibers are more efficient by a wide margin.

A state-of-the-art undersea fiber pair can carry about a terabit (one trillions bits) per second of data, in the form of light pulses. The pulses travel thousands of miles underwater, getting refreshed every hundred miles or so by special amplifiers built into the itself.

Actually the data rate is about 10 billion bits per second for any one signal. Engineers are able to squeeze more information into a single cable by "multiplexing" up to 100 signals, each at a different frequency or color, on top of each other using a technique known as Wavelength Division Multiplexing.

Neal Bergano, a Managing Director at Tyco Telecommunications, a provider of undersea cable systems located in New Jersey, said that the signal capacity of fiber optic cables is getting ready for a large growth spurt. The multiplexing is about to get better. The devices that detect the signals emerging from the ocean are about to get more efficient.

Speaking at a meeting of optical fiber experts in March in San Diego, Calif., Dr. Bergano said that the effect of all this will be to speed up transmission in a few years by a factor 10 or more.

Compare the blazing speed of today’s signals with older transatlantic cables. The first official telegraphic message went from American President James Buchanan and Britain's Queen Victoria in 1858. The conversation lasted only a few sentences. And the line went dead after only a few days later. A decade later the lines were much better, but only bankers could afford to communicate with each other across the ocean. The price was more than $5 a word.

Undersea fiber service is about to get faster in countries that acquired high-speed telecommunications long ago. It has also just come to some nations that have never used cables before.

Bergano described an undersea network, called SEACOM, bringing terabits-per-second communications over a 15,000-kilometer network several countries in East Africa, with side branches extending to Europe and India.

Explore further: Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

Provided by Inside Science News Service

4.3 /5 (9 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Glass fibers instead of copper cables

Jul 24, 2006

Semiconductor technology is expensive. Novel optical microchips made of plastic are set to bring down the price of fiber-optic technology in future. Personal fiber-optic connections for private individuals ...

De-multiplexing to the max: 640 Gbits/second

Feb 02, 2009

Sliced light is how we communicate now. Millions of phone calls and cable television shows per second are dispatched through fibers in the form of digital zeros and ones formed by chopping laser pulses into bits. This slicing ...

Optical Broadband Data Transmission in the Home

Mar 27, 2007

Siemens and Infineon have developed a simple broadband transmission system for use in home networks. The system uses optical polymer cables that can be laid and installed without requiring any special skills. ...

Ad watchdog: Cablevision Internet not 'fastest'

Mar 27, 2009

(AP) -- Cablevision Systems Corp. should stop saying its Internet service is "the fastest around," the advertising industry's self-regulatory body said Thursday, in response to complaints from competitor Verizon Communications ...

Recommended for you

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

Apr 17, 2014

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...

Quantenna promises 10-gigabit Wi-Fi by next year

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —Quantenna Communications has announced that it has plans for releasing a chipset that will be capable of delivering 10Gbps WiFi to/from routers, bridges and computers by sometime next year. ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

Apr 16, 2014

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

Apr 16, 2014

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.

Dish Network denies wrongdoing in $2M settlement

Apr 15, 2014

The state attorney general's office says Dish Network Corp. will reimburse Washington state customers about $2 million for what it calls a deceptive surcharge, but the satellite TV provider denies any wrongdoing.

Netflix's Comcast deal improves quality of video

Apr 14, 2014

Netflix's videos are streaming through Comcast's Internet service at their highest speeds in the past 17 months now that Netflix is paying for a more direct connection to Comcast's network.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...