Anatomy of a Submarine Network: The Workhorse of the Internet
By Russ Fordyce
Sr. Director, Marketing
A single pair of fibers on a trans-Atlantic submarine network cable can now carry up to 26.2 terabits per second of data
The fact of the matter is, there aren’t that many ways to get your data from point A to point B, especially when traveling long distances. Really, there are only three main ways: wires (phone, coax, and fiber optic) to send data over land, microwave and cellular systems to send data over the air, or submarine networks that span the sea. A submarine network isn’t really anything special – it is basically a traditional optical network, just under water!
The path of your data is intuitive: email, web browsing, and other data travel from your home to your internet service provider (ISP), usually over phone wires, coaxial cable, cellular signals, or fiber optics. But this “access network” is only the first step of the journey. Next, data travels from your ISP to a national or international network or network provider, and if you are requesting data from overseas, your data now takes a ride on one of the hundreds of submarine networks.
The amazing part about all of this is that it generally takes less than a second to traverse a submarine network. And considering the first submarine network transmission took 17 hours and 40 minutes, it is even more incredible!
What’s astonishing is that 99% of the world’s internet traffic is now, at some point, put on a submarine network. So, since it’s hard to see these networks given they are often thousands of feet or meters under the water, we thought we’d take a quick look at how these networks are put together and mention some of the interesting facts and myths surrounding these internet workhorses.
Submarine network technology isn’t slowing down either. Late last year the record was broken for submarine capacity when a team was able to demonstrate 26.2 terabits per second of data over the MAREA submarine cable, a 6,600-kilometer (4,128-mile) submarine cable between Virginia Beach, Virginia and Bilbao, Spain. For reference, Netflix uses about 5.0 megabits per second for HD-quality streams, so with this cable, you could have 5.2 million people all watching Game of Thrones at the same time!