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07 December
Saturday

World

The Internet isn't just bits of code

With miles of cables, we can communicate across the ocean

Photo: New York Times

/NOVOSTIVL/ The internet consists of tiny bits of code that move around the world, traveling along wires as thin as a strand of hair strung across the ocean floor. The data zips from New York to Sydney, from Hong Kong to London, in the time it takes you to read this word. This article appeared in the New York Times.

Nearly 750,000 miles of cable already connect the continents to support our insatiable demand for communication and entertainment. Companies have typically pooled their resources to collaborate on undersea cable projects, like a freeway for them all to share.

But now Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America.

"People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not," said Jayne Stowell, who oversees construction of Google’s undersea cable projects. "It’s in the ocean."

Getting it there is an exacting and time-intensive process. A 456-foot ship named Durable will eventually deliver the cable to sea. But first, the cable is assembled inside a sprawling factory a few hundred yards away, in Newington, N.H. The factory, owned by the company SubCom, is filled with specialized machinery used to maintain tension in the wire and encase it in protective skin.

While new wireless and satellite technologies have been invented in the decades since, cables remain the fastest, most efficient and least expensive way to send information across the ocean. And it is still far from cheap: 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.

In the modern era, telecommunications companies laid most of the cable, but over the past decade American tech giants started taking more control. 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.


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