In 2016, for the first time Facebook, Microsoft and Telxius came together to begin operating on the MAREA project that connected the US to southern Europe. The 4,000-mile fibre optic cable was completed in 2017 and was capable of transmitting data at up to 160 TB per second which was 16 million times faster than the average household internet. Today, there are approximately 380 underwater cables operating worldwide, spanning a distance of more than 745,645 miles. Underwater cables are the unseen force that propels the modern internet forward.
Now, Google’s latest deep sea endeavour, Firmina is part of the company’s ambitious plan to expand their global internet connectivity in South America. With stops in Punta del Este, Uruguay and Praia Grande, Brazil, it will span the US East Coast to Las Toninas, Argentina. Firmina can be powered entirely by a single power source located at one end of the cable, which provides an important resilience boost. In addition to providing internet access to South America, Google’s subsea cable will help maintain connection in the event of an outage due to insufficient power supply. This cable will be developed and implemented by SubCom, which will begin operating by the end of 2023 from Florida and continue westward, landing in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.
Using the cables Firmina, Google expects to get a boost in network traffic and decrease in latency for South American residents and get them access to Google products such as Search, Gmail, YouTube, and Google Cloud services. The cable takes the name of a Brazilian abolitionist and novelist, Maria Firmina dos Reis, who examined the lives of the Afro-Brazilian slaves in her novel Úrsula in 1859. Firmina is Google’s sixteenth investment in undersea cables, including the Curie cable that connects the United States and Chile, Dunant that connects Virginia Beach to France and the Grace Hopper cable that connects the United Kingdom and Spain.
Prior to this, Google laid the groundwork for another fibre-optic cable that would connect India to Europe through the Middle East. This development occurred at a critical point of connectivity, considering that it passed through two arch-enemies Saudi Arabia and Israel, which is staggering. While the geopolitical issue remains a hurdle for Google, the project will reach Israel by 2022 with an expected cost of $400 million. Google has dubbed this underwater cable project Blue Raman after another prominent figure as it does with most of its internet cables; in this case, it was after the Indian physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman.
The new cable isn’t just about adding capacity, but it’s also about strengthening Google’s current network. The primary advantage of undersea fibre optic cables is that they enable the transmission of large amounts of data quickly. With 95% of the data and voice traffic transiting international boundaries, underwater cables make instant communications possible, which means that our digitally-driven society won’t be unable to function without the nearly 750,000 miles of cable that crisscross the world’s oceans. The global flow of network data depends on undersea cable networks, which play a critical role in the global economy.
The big tech afloat
In recent years, content providers such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon have begun constructing new undersea cables to enhance network connectivity further. Only recently, Google and Facebook announced plans for two new undersea data cables linking North America and the Asia-Pacific region. This announcement came to light after they halted a cable meant for Hong Kong. To increase transpacific capacity, Facebook and other partners will be investing in cables known as Echo and Bifrost, which will connect Singapore, Indonesia and North America, providing an additional 70% increase in transpacific capacity. Bifrost and Echo will be the first transpacific cables to cross the Java Sea, and their construction will nearly double the capacity. Google will collaborate with Telin and XL Axiata on these projects in Indonesia and with Keppel in Singapore. As more fibre optic submarine cables are installed around the world, it will only be a matter of time before we see high speed uninterrupted internet services.
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Ritika Sagar is currently pursuing PDG in Journalism from St. Xavier's, Mumbai. She is a journalist in the making who spends her time playing video games and analyzing the developments in the tech world.