In the increasingly mobile and digital world we live in, things like USB cables and HDMI high-speed cables are becoming slightly less prominent, as many people anxiously anticipate the next batch of wireless cell phone accessories. As the mobile network operator news site RCRwireless recently pointed out, it’s important to keep in mind that all of these connections are made possible by the hundreds of thousands of feet of bulk fiber optic cables that circumvent the globe, many of which are under the ocean floor.
It’s this subsea network of bulk fiber optic cables that transmit approximately 90% of the world’s data through terabytes. To put in perspective just how big a terabyte is consider that ‘mega’ is a prefix denoting 1,000,000 (1 million). In data communications this term is used in describing the speed of data transfer in megabits per second, the bandwidth of a given system in megahertz. One terabyte is equal to one million megabytes.
Although many people think of fiber optics as a relatively new invention, bulk fiber optic cable submarine networks began being implemented as early as the late 1980s, according to a 2014 Submarine Telecoms Industry Report authored by Terabit Consulting. The direct result of a $57.2 billion investment into about 1.275 million kilometers of bulk fiber optic cable.
Unlike smartphones, which typically last about two years, and CAT5 cables, which usually last between five and 10, one of the biggest reasons for the success of the subsea fiber optic network lies in the cables longevity. “The major drivers of transatlantic cables’ longevity have been advancements in upgrade technology,” the Telecoms report states. “Which correspond precisely to the 6,500-kilometer range of transatlantic spans, combined with extremely competitive pricing of both transatlantic capacity and managed bandwidth products, both of which have thus far eliminated any incentive for operators and content providers to opt for building over buying.” As the technology continues to improve and more and more companies take an interest in the investment these kind of networks will only get better and more available.