This Is What An Undersea Data Cable Actually Looks Like

This Is What an Undersea Data Cable Actually Looks Like

The internet doesn't just happen; it's served up to us by thousands of kilometres of physical cabling, and much of it, naturally, has to stretch under the sea in order to make it truly international. In case you've ever wondered, this is what one of those cables actually looks like.

When they're not being tapped by the NSA or severed by criminals, undersea cables have to cope with some pretty traumatic conditions. High pressure salt water isn't the friend of any communication link, and that's before you even think about geological shifts and other undersea activity.

So the deep-sea lines that let you watch cat videos from the other side of the world are heavily reinforced to ensure that internet outages are the exception rather than the rule. Essentially that means a lot of steel reinforcing, a whole heap of polymer shrouding, and a dash of copper shielding. Get through all of that and lurking there, just in the middle, are a few precious glass fibres that carry your data.

It might seem like overkill, but it really is worth it: When one was damaged in Myanmar earlier this year, the country's bandwidth instantly plummeted.

Image: Fop News


    Why is there copper shielding needed on a fibre ?
    There don't appear to be any electrical conductors in the sample shown...

    The big chunk of nylon? is pretty cool - allowing plenty of flex and slip in the cable.

      Part of the cable is used to power the repeater stations from memory it is pretty high voltage.

      I think that is for powering the repeaters installed in series along the length of the cable.

    Don't the signals degrade over distance? I thought there were in-line amplifiers to restore the signal, every 100Km or so.

      There are erbium-doped fiber amplifiers that draw power from the shielding cables. It depends on the quality of the fiber and the required bandwidth as to how far apart they are placed but they are on the order of every 100km or so.

    The copper isnt a shield, at all. Its a current carrying conductor, used to power the many amplifiers along the sub-sea link.

    The shielding you see would only be used on the shallow sections of the cable run too, when it gets out to deep ocean waters, the steel cable shielding is almost non-existent.

    The cables are laid in anchor-free zones, if you drop anchor in these areas you are up for massive fines (thats even if you manage to not hit anything!!). Beyond the shallow waters, they bury the cable at the sea-bed with a trawl.

    The process is pretty cool to watch :)

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