Nature and Biodiversity

This map shows how undersea cables move internet traffic around the world

People are reflected on a soap bubble lying on a road during the evening in New Delhi, India, June 23, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1HR5X

New map shows how undersea cables connect the world. Image: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

Alex Gray
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Digital Communications is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Digital Communications

Have you ever wondered how internet traffic flies around the world? 99% of it travels through cables under the sea. That’s your internet telephone conversation, your instant messages, your email and your website visits, all making their way beneath the world’s oceans.

The reason is simple: in recent years, data has travelled through fibre optic cables. These are much faster and cheaper than trying to bounce messages off satellites and through the airwaves. But we can’t lay them all across our increasingly congested ground, nor can we realistically build telegraph cables to stretch over the Atlantic Ocean.

The miles and miles of cables, which are roughly the size of a garden hose, carry internet traffic at the speed of light. They can carry so much traffic that fewer than 300 cable systems transport almost all internet traffic around the world.

Where are the cables?

This fascinating, interactive map shows the history behind each cable, and shows all the connections between countries. You can have a browse here.

Image: Surfacing

Some notable examples include what is currently the world’s highest-capacity undersea internet cable: a 5600-mile link between the US and Japan. Aptly named “FASTER”, the cable connects Oregon in the USA with Japan and Taiwan. It’s owned by Google and a consortium of other communications companies. “FASTER is one of just a few hundred submarine cables connecting various parts of the world, which collectively form an important backbone that helps run the Internet,” said Urs Hölze, a Google Executive.

Image: Surfacing

This map shows the cables in one glance.

Image: Submarine Cable Map

The amount of internet traffic

The demand for internet capacity is only going to increase. In the future there will be millions of devices connected to the internet, known as the Internet of Things. Cisco estimates that consumer internet traffic will increase by 26% by 2020.

How do you lay the cables in the first place?

This photograph shows how Google laid its FASTER cable. Installing the cable under the sea requires specially designed ships which can lay anywhere from 100-150km of cable per day. The fibre optic cables are very fragile, so they are surrounded with layers of tubing and steel to prevent damage.

Image: Urs Hölzle / Google

A number of things can damage cables. This shark was filmed attempting to take a bite out of the cable. It’s thought it was attracted to the electromagnetic pulses given off by the cable, as sharks also find prey that way.

Loading...

There are also more ordinary threats to cables, such as construction projects that damage the cables by accident, or even anchors dropped from boats.

Have you read?

Some worry about more sinister attacks. “Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict,” explained a recent New York Times piece.

If a cable gets damaged, divers are dispatched to take a look at the damage. The cable is then brought to the surface and fixed.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

4 steps to jumpstart your mangrove investment journey

Whitney Johnston and Estelle Winkleman

June 20, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum