Jul 23, 2016

Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have made some big waves over the last few weeks with the announcement that they will be connecting America to Europe like never before—via massive, trans-oceanic undersea cables.

The goal of the merger is to take the “latest step in…global cloud infrastructure,” a move that the team hopes will finally meet the growing demand for high speed internet.

Formally called “MAREA,” which translates “tide” in Spanish, the companies are working together to accelerate the process of building the cables. Construction is set to begin at the end of this summer, in August 2016, and is expected to be completed by October 2017.

The intention is to maintain high speed capacity while ensuring reliable connections for customers, and this would be a tremendous boon for Microsoft cloud services like Bing, Skype, and Xbox Live. Facebook is in need of faster speed internet to keep up with the expected video capacity of their social media arms.

The cables will, ideally, have a bandwidth of up to 160Tb per second. The first 4,000-mile long cable will stretch from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Bilbao, Spain, where it will continue on to “hubs” scattered throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

The cables being underwater also shield them from natural damage from wind and weather issues, and don’t require tremendous towers to transmit signals.

The cables can suffer damage, as they have in the past, but by outfitting them with GPS transmitters, repair crews can easily find the source of the damage and repair it quickly. Not that major companies like Microsoft would rely on a single line and chance a disconnect.

The companies will be building only one cable for now; they plan to add to their bundles soon enough. Facebook intends to have two and Microsoft is eyeing four of them.

If this project sounds familiar, that’s because there are actually quite a few companies laying cables underneath the ocean.

In 2010, Google invested in a trans-oceanic cable called Unity from the US to Japan. They are not stopping there, and have announced intentions to raise that number from one to five over the next few years.

Amazon also has plans to add a cable to the ocean floor to support its users and online interests.

Aside from the publicly known companies laying cables on the ocean floor, there are also a lot of private companies taking advantage of the speed and capacity. Businesses the world over have grown increasingly dependent on instantaneous transmission of information all around the world, and the cables are looking like the most reasonable and approachable way to get that done.

What used to be run via satellites will soon be run by cable. Satellites, for their cost, cannot deliver nearly the level of speed and reliable connection that customers have come to expect. Not only are satellites more expensive, but they also suffer from lag.

The undersea cables are far more cost effective and can reap some serious financial rewards by reducing internet latency by 60 milliseconds. While that may sound like a minuscule amount of time, for people who rely on those milliseconds to trade in stocks, that can make all the difference.

Somehow tech visionaries have found a way to submerge the cloud under the ocean, and it is there in the dark depths that the idealistic visions for future of the internet will, hopefully, come to pass.