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Submarine cables: a deep dive into underwater connectivity

July 28, 2015

Brian Morris   

Blog contributor

A look to the billion pound industry

It’s no secret that the popularity of streaming video has sky rocketed in the last few years. It’s well accepted and well known that the number of households that stream video online as opposed to watching the conventional form of television has increased dramatically. In fact, consultancy Mireality revealed last year that in the UK, the number of TV license paying households dropped from 98 per cent down to 96 per cent, while tablet ownership increased, as more users transfer their viewing experience onto devices more mobile. What isn’t as widely acknowledged is the true value of streaming. It was recently reported that led by the likes of Netflix and Amazon, the streaming services industry will grow to be a billion pound industry within five years.

This exponential growth in video streaming, paired with the 454 per cent growth of internet usage in Europe since 2000, has presented a challenge for network providers. Growth in internet use, and the diversification of traffic as a result of video streaming, online gaming and more, has run parallel to the shift in consumer demands of these services. Those that are streaming don’t want to be faced with slow connection and the stop-and-start experience of a video that is continuously buffering. Providers are catering to a generation that is accustomed to instant gratification of their technological needs.

People today live in a world where connected devices, mobility and high bandwidth speeds for HD streaming services are the norm, and consumed anytime, anywhere. How it gets to them is a subject that is often not of interest. Though it may not be on the agenda for the everyday consumer, as expectations of fast and ubiquitous connectivity increase, it is important to acknowledge the infrastructure that underpins the online world as we know it.

 A deep dive into underwater connectivity

The infrastructure that provides the high quality, high volume of content and fast service that we’re accustomed to is largely down to the use of an extensive network of underwater cables connecting the world. Tata Communications operates the world’s largest wholly owned submarine fibre network – more than 500,000 kilometres of subsea fibre, routing 24% of all internet traffic. The Internet, as it exists today, could not operate without these submarine networks. The cables route about 99% of global internet traffic, connecting points of presence in different countries and across continents and allowing information to be sent and shared throughout the globe. Without these cables, there would be no email, social media, Netflix or Spotify, online shopping, search engines, cloud computing – all the facets of modern internet which we have become so reliant upon.

So while it may seem that the videos you watch on your smartphone, tablet, PC or games console are instantly sent to you by an intangible force, in truth it is often physically travelling through the underwater network to reach you. There are two major factors that are beginning to show strain on the Internet and our ability to access the service in the same way we do now.

One of which is the unparalleled increase in the number of people accessing online content and streaming high quality videos. If this increases at the rate expected, it will one day mean that the current underwater infrastructure will no longer be enough. Greater capacity exists in the form of “dark fibre” – fibre-optic cables that are currently unused but can be turned on when greater capacity is required. However, given the exponential growth of internet traffic and the evolving types of information being transported, the subsea cable network always needs to remain one step ahead.

It is vital that IP providers make their infrastructure and their service more intelligent, to get more from the existing infrastructure and ensure speed and reliability remains, even in light of exponential growth. Tata Communications is using software defined networking, amongst a range of other technologies and techniques in its IZO™ platform, to effectively manage its networks and provide enhanced reliability and speed. If IP providers want to stay ahead of the competition, they must make it a priority to enhance the intelligence of their networks.

Another key factor for consideration is the growing level of connectivity in developing countries. As more and more people in the developing world come online, the next step in strengthening the cable network will be in emerging markets such as Asia, Africa and South America. While these markets didn’t originally benefit from the same level of connectivity and infrastructure as those previously mentioned, for the most part they are undergoing rapid development, leap-frogging technologies such as PCs and moving straight towards smartphones and a tablet-led environment. This is providing an opportunity to create intelligent networks from the outset, to prepare for the massive growth and demand involved with getting the next billion online.

By building advanced and sophisticated infrastructure in untapped markets, the next billion will experience the speed, reliability and accessibility that are being experienced by developed markets around the world and the opportunities that come with it.

This is the first hurdle, but it is by no means the last. As demands on technology and consumer needs continue to evolve – it’s important that what connects us keeps up.

Watch our ‘Where does the internet come from’ video to learn more: