While working my way through the several-hundred RSS feeds I subscribe to I came across an article that referenced an Epic Net Outage In Africa. Curiosity got the best of me and I started looking for more information on the worldwide use of underwater communications lines. Once-upon-a-time these (copper) cables, used to connect the worlds continents, were made up of hundred (thousands) of copper strands. These, for the most part, have been replaced by fiber optic cabling that can not only carry greater amounts of data but are smaller (and presumably cheaper) than copper conductors.
Communication companies are using these cables, resting on the sea floor in all of the worlds oceans, to move massive amounts of data between land masses. Typically the majority of the information you access on the internet is stored nearby in servers that cache data that others have already referenced. Why send the same data over long distances if it can be stored regionally? When you end up requesting a piece of data that’s actually located in another country you are most likely utilizing these underwater cables to transfer the data from its source to your computer. Here’s a good test for you to try. In Windows click START, RUN and type CMD [ENTER]. In the command line window that pops up type Ping 126.96.36.199 [ENTER]. You should get something like this: Make a note of the “Time=237ms” piece, you just communicated directly with a server in Taiwan. Now ping 188.8.131.52 Notice how the “time” is a lot less? This, in geek speak, is called “Latency“. You just communicated with one of the thousands of servers Google has on the Internet (many of them local to large metropolitan areas). Now granted, we’re talking milliseconds but that’s an eternity in the computer world. By pinging the actual IP address of the computer in Taiwan you bypassed any caching by your ISP and communicated with the server directly.
1000 Milliseconds equals one second so when you communicated with the server in Taiwan you sent a piece of data at the speed of light over 7700 miles (and BACK) in 0.25 seconds. How amazing is that? When they figure out how to digitize the human body you should be able to travel anywhere in the world in just a few seconds (or less). As someone who’s used satellite communication in the past for voice communication I can assure you that the delay can be in the 1000’s of milliseconds and it’s a real pain to communicate with someone using a satellite that’s just 4-700 miles overhead.
Since we’re becoming a more “global” society it’s important, now more than ever, that these undersea communication links are available (and functional). Hopefully the telecommunication companies are investing in more capacity to handle the ever increasing need to transmit data around the world.