Google Dissects Undersea Cable to Explain the Internet

Guess what, Sen. Stevens? The Internet really is a series of tubes.
Google Dissects Undersea Cable to Explain the Internet
Image credit: via PC Mag
News reporter
2 min read
This story originally appeared on PCMag

Google cut open an undersea cable that's usually crisscrossing the world's oceans in an attempt to answer the question, "No really, what is the Internet?"

The dissection, uploaded Friday to YouTube, evokes Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens's 2006 comment that the Internet is a "series of tubes." As Google explains, the tubes are actually a series of small galvanized steel strands surrounding a smaller plastic strand with gel and fiberglass inside.


We spent more than seven minutes -- an eternity on the Internet -- watching the entire video so you don't have to waste your time or, um, clog up the Internet tubes unnecessarily. Here are the salient bits:

  • The majority of the cable -- the exterior layers of galvanized steel -- is just protection for the "payload," or the fiber optic strands that carry pulses of light.
  • The individual fiber strands themselves -- each cable has around two dozen -- are no thicker than human hair. They're color coded; a blue strand sends traffic east, while a red one sends traffic west.
  • Small repeaters lie every 50 miles along the cable's route on the ocean floor, amplifying the light signals so they can travel faster.
  • The cable is laid without much regard to the undersea terrain, so it gets draped over mountain ranges, through coral, and around active fishing areas.
  • The only major difference between Google's cables and the telegraph cables laid more than a hundred years ago is the glass strands -- everything else is virtually identical.

Google has recently been expanding its network of undersea cables, which it shares with other companies. A link between Japan and Taiwan promises 26 terabit-per-second data transfers and went online in September, and an 8,000-mile cable will join Hong Kong and Los Angeles by 2018, carrying data from Facebook, Google, and others at 120 terabits per second.

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