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  • There's a good chance that the bits and bytes that make up this video have traveled

  • to you through a fiber optic submarine cable running along the ocean floor. These cables

  • are part of the infrastructure that transmits almost all internet data around the world.

  • And as everyone and everything becomes increasingly reliant on the internet to function, who owns,

  • builds and ultimately controls this network will be more critical than ever.

  • Internet adaptation has steadily increased over the last couple of decades. Despite its

  • creation in the late 1960s, the internet was only widely adopted in 1989 after the invention

  • of the world wide web, revolutionizing the way we communicate.

  • Before the rise of mobile devices, internet access was largely limited to expensive and

  • inconvenient desktop computers. But today, it's an indispensable part of our lives.

  • So, here's how it works.

  • When you send an email, tweet or post a photo online, that data is sent through cables or

  • more commonly radio waves to a router or cell phone tower. From there, these signals are

  • sent through a series of fiber optic cables in the form of pulses of light to an internet

  • exchange, which acts like a sorting office. Most data from users in a local area network

  • pass through these hubs in order to connect to other networks. For networks and data centers

  • on the other side of the world, this journey will likely traverse the seabed.

  • These submarine cables crisscross the ocean before arriving at an anonymous looking building

  • like this. It's called a landing station and it's the end of the line for the submarine

  • cable before the data begins its journey overland again.

  • To lay a cable across any ocean is a significant feat but it's not a modern innovationit's

  • been happening for more than 160 years.

  • As soon as the cable is passed under the bows the crew take charge of it.

  • The invention and widespread use of the electric telegraphwhich could carry the dots and

  • dashes of morse codeled to the first transatlantic telegraph cable between the

  • U.S. and Britain in 1858.

  • By the early 20th century, the dominance of the telegraph was replaced by telephone technology

  • that allowed voices to be carried over wires through electrical signals. Soon, submarine

  • cables were carrying telephone traffic, which were laid worldwide, mostly by telecommunication

  • monopolies such as the British Post Office and the American Telephone and Telegraph, or AT&T.

  • Amidst the dotcom bubble in the 1990s, international consortiums began to invest in submarine cables too.

  • 35km of fiber optics connects this one dealing room.

  • These private companies sold or leased the bandwidth to other commercial entities which

  • needed more capacity.

  • The last ten years have seen a rapid expansion of the network to keep up with the demand

  • for internet services. As of early 2020, there were 406 submarine cables that totaled around

  • 750,000 miles in length, enough to go around the world 30 times. Some lines are relatively

  • short, like the 81-mileCeltixConnectcable between Ireland and the United Kingdom, while

  • others, such as the Asia America Gatewaycable, which runs across the Pacific Ocean, is 12,427 miles long. 

  • Packed within these cables are fibre optic strands that transmit data at speeds of more

  • than 100,000 miles/second, and they carry more than 95% of international data. That's

  • because undersea cables are still the fastest, most reliable and least costly way to transmit

  • information over vast distances.

  • While the infrastructure on land and underwater is vulnerable to the occasional curious rat

  • or shark, the biggest threat to submarine cables is human activity. In 2011, internet

  • access to the whole of Armenia was severed after an elderly Georgian woman damaged an

  • underground cable while scavenging for copper, while in 2016, a ship dragging its anchor

  • in the English Channel cut three undersea internet cables.

  • In some circumstances, though, satellites are needed to deliver the internet. Very remote

  • areas don't have the population density to make an economic case for cabling, so satellites

  • are the preferred option. For security reasons, many governments and their military also rely

  • on satellites. Google's parent company Alphabet has also set their sights on internet balloons

  • to beam the internet to unconnected parts of the world.

  • But even as the web has grown, it has also narrowed in some respects. The rise of the

  • American tech giants in the 21st century meant that Silicon Valley had a reason to invest

  • in these strategic assets.

  • Today, content providers such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft own or lease more than

  • half of the global undersea bandwidth. As of 2020, Google has invested in 16 cables

  • that traverse most of the world, Facebook has stakes in 12 that cross both the Pacific

  • and Atlantic Oceans, while Microsoft and Amazon have funded five cables each.

  • As the tech giants expand their global network of data centers, these cables will be essential

  • to meet the demand for their services such as cloud computing and streaming, which require

  • minimal delay and lots of bandwidth.

  • But the ownership of these submarine cables is drawing scrutiny from governments due to

  • security concerns. Some analysts believe it's the latest frontier in the geopolitical battle

  • between China and the U.S.

  • In 2018, Australia prevented Chinese tech company Huawei from laying a cable between

  • the country and the Solomon Islands over concerns that it would give the Chinese government

  • access to its networks.

  • In June, a U.S. national security panel objected to an 8,000-mile cable being built by Facebook

  • and Google connecting Hong Kong and the U.S., arguing that it would offer 'unprecedented

  • opportunities' for Chinese government espionage by capturing internet traffic.

  • Many analysts believe that Huawei's growing involvement in the construction and repair

  • of submarine cables worldwide could even allow China to disrupt internet links between nations,

  • echoing strategies employed during World War I. Then, the United Kingdom's dominance

  • of the international telegraph infrastructure allowed it to cut off almost all of Germany's

  • communication with the outside world.

  • Likewise, the U.S. had an espionage program in the 1970s to tap Russian undersea communication cables.

  • Having multiple submarine cables covering the same route acts as a buffer in the event

  • a cable is damaged. However, building more cables won't necessarily improve connectivity

  • or internet speeds for everyone.

  • For instance, despite having the second largest online market globally, half of the Indian

  • population still don't have internet access. Africa is also a significantly underserviced

  • region, with 871 million people lacking access to the internet.

  • Reasons include the lack of data centers, last-mile infrastructure and unaffordable

  • costs for end-users that won't be solved by increased undersea bandwidth.

  • However, as these markets open up and more people come online, demand for faster internet

  • speeds will continue to rise. It's unlikely, then, that the submarine cable race between

  • the big tech companies is going to slow down. With billions of dollars of revenue at stake,

  • more money will continue to be invested in these expensive subsea projects.

  • Hi guys, thanks for watching our video. If you're wondering why we're standing on this beach

  • well under the water over there is a submarine cable that runs from the west coast of England

  • to the east coast of America, about 3,500 miles away. We'll see you next time.

There's a good chance that the bits and bytes that make up this video have traveled

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The fight over the internet, under the sea | CNBC Explains

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    Summer posted on 2020/10/30
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