How the Internet Travels Across Oceans
People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not. It’s in the ocean.
The first trans-Atlantic cable was completed in 1858 to connect the United States and Britain. Queen Victoria commemorated the occasion with a message to President James Buchanan that took 16 hours to transmit.
While new wireless and satellite technologies have been invented in the decades since, Google would not disclose the cost of its project to Chile, but experts say subsea projects cost up to $350 million, depending on the length of the cable.
Google has backed at least 14 cables globally. Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft have invested in others, connecting data centers in North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa, according to TeleGeography, a research firm.
Countries view the undersea cables as critical infrastructure and the projects have been flash points in geopolitical disputes. Last year, Australia stepped in to block the Chinese technology giant Huawei from building a cable connecting Australia to the Solomon Islands, for fear it would give the Chinese government an entry point into its networks.
Content providers like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon now own or lease more than half of the undersea bandwidth.
After the Latin America project, Google plans to build a new cable running from Virginia to France, set to be done by 2020. The company has 13 data centers open around the world, with eight more under construction — all needed to power the trillions of Google searches made each year and the more than 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute.
“It really is management of a very complex multidimensional chess board,” said Ms. Stowell of Google, who wears an undersea cable as a necklace.