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World’s Telecommunications and Internet Data

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The U.S. and Russian submarines are playing a game of cat and mouse above the undersea cables that carry the world’s telecommunications and Internet data.

In July 2019, 14 Russian sailors onboard a submarine were killed in an accident. The top-secret submarine, believed to be the Losharik, was attempting to dock with a larger submarine when an explosion occurred in her battery compartment. Rather than evacuating, the 14 sailors closed a hatch and fought the resulting fire.

The Loshiarik can operate at depths other submarines cannot reach, and Western intelligence agencies have speculated that her mission was to tap information flowing through undersea cables. These cables form the backbone of worldwide communications.

The cables carry 95 percent of daily worldwide communications, plus they carry financial transactions worth over $10 trillion a day. Any disruption would cause a catastrophic cut in the flow of capital.

Where these undersea cables come ashore are called “landing areas,” and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security lists these landing areas at the top of their list of “critical infrastructure.”

Undersea Telegraph Cables

The first undersea transcontinental telegraph cable was completed in the summer of 1858. It ran under the Atlantic ocean from Newfoundland to Ireland, and it carried the first official telegraph message sent by Queen Victoria to U.S. President James Buchanan. That 509-letter message took 17 hours and 40 minutes to arrive.

Between the years 1858 and 1911, Britain’s vast colonial empire required communication, and entrepreneurs in Britain financed the building, laying and maintenance of the first undersea telegraph cables.

Telegraph communication meant that ships could be directed to pick up cargo, governors of the various colonies could be in contact with London, and Britain could coordinate her military units.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Britain expanded her undersea cable telegraph network eastward into the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. In 1870, a cable linking Bombay, India to London was completed by a consortium of four cable companies, and in 1872, these four companies combined to form the Eastern Telegraph Company.

A spin-off company, the Eastern Extension China and Australasia Telegraph Company, was formed, and in 1876, it linked Australia, Bombay, Singapore, and China.

In the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. linked to Hawaii in 1902, and that same year, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji were connected. Japan came on board in 1906.

Read more: Submarine cables for global Internet

Undersea Telephone Cables

It wasn’t until 1955 that the first transatlantic telephone cable, TAT-1 was laid between Oban, Scotland, and Clarenville, Newfoundland. It was inaugurated on September 25, 1956, and carried 36 telephone channels.

Undersea Fiber-Optic Cables

The first fiber-optic cables were developed in the 1980s, and the first fiber-optic transatlantic telephone cable was TAT-8, which went into operation in 1988. Today’s fiber-optic cables have their fibers arranged in a self-healing ring to increase redundancy, and their submarine sections follow different paths along the ocean floor. Some systems have dual landing points where they come onshore. Continue reading

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