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Tags: Submarine
June 19, 2019

Imagine a World Where the Internet is Smaller and Where Submarine Network Cables Retire

By Bill Kautz
Director of Analyst Relations & Market Intelligence

NANOG 76 is a wrap, and there were some surprising discussions around submarine network cables and the current state of the internet

Last week wrapped the 76th meeting of the North American Network Operators’ Group, or NANOG. This conference offers a great opportunity for the industry to network, freshen up on skills, learn about advanced networking techniques, and discover new network applications. There were two standout presentations during this particular session that caught my eye.

The Retirement of Our Submarine Network Cables

The first was made by Tim Stronge of TeleGeography, called “Exploring the New Wave of Subsea Cables to North America.” During the presentation, Tim covered news about all the new cables recently deployed, the shift to content providers driving new submarine network builds, and technology shifts.

But the one item that was most interesting was Tim’s discussion on pending cable retirements. That’s right – while there is a massive buildout of new cables going on now, other cables are being retired.

But it’s probably not for the reasons you’d think. It’s not age! Well, I guess it’s kind of related to age. Cable retirements are a direct result of economic obsolescence, usually related to not being able to provide the lowest cost per bit, versus the cable aging out physically or through deterioration.

Submarine network cables are engineered to have a minimum life of 25 years. That’s it! While most of us are just getting going in our 20s, submarine cables are starting to break down economically.

Think back to the first internet boom, during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Startup culture was just starting to make use of the internet, so trans-Atlantic and other submarine cables were also booming. But now these same cables that carried our AOL traffic and orders are aging out.

The good news? Consumers are demanding more and more content, video streaming quality is now pushing 4K and soon 8K resolutions, and the cloud is ubiquitous…so in turn, demand for submarine cables is way up.

According to Tim’s presentation, in 2008, internet backbone providers’ international capacity usage was ~80% of total internet capacity, a number that has dropped to ~40% in 2018. During this same 10-year period, content provider-driven international capacity usage has grown from ~5% to ~50%! The routes that have seen the most growth are trans-Atlantic (~80%), trans-Pacific (~66%), and intra-Asia (~70%) routes.

This has driven wavelength pricing way down and encouraged technology providers to look for new ways to push more data down the same pipes as they approach the “Shannon limit” of fiber capacity.

The Internet Is Getting Smaller – Well, Kind Of

The other presentation that piqued my interest was from CTO Craig Labovitz of Nokia Deepfield, titled “Internet Traffic 2009 – 2019.” Like Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, Craig covered an update of internet traffic statistics, providing an alternative view to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index data.

Some of the top observations in the presentation were:

  • The internet is rapidly getting smaller by concentration of content sources
  • The internet is getting bigger by traffic volume
  • By traffic volume, the internet has almost entirely completed migration to content delivery networks (CDNs)
  • For the first time, Transport Layer Security (TLS) is the majority of traffic in 2019
  • IPv6 is now at 20%, but that percentage is not growing

Nokia Deepfield estimates that the internet has reached peak traffic volumes of 800 terabits per second (Tb/s) in 2019, as compared to 600 Tb/s as estimated by Cisco for 2019, and up from 40 Tb/s just 10 years ago. CDNs have grown to more than 90% of all traffic, from sources including Netflix, dedicated vendor CDNs, and public CDNs like Akamai and Fastly. Just 10 years ago, CDN was primarily Akamai, while Netflix and Google are now the largest dedicated CDNs.

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