How the Internet Travels Across Oceans

Nov 16 , 2022

How the Internet Travels Across Oceans

The internet is made up of tiny pieces of code that go across the globe on cables as thin as strands of human hair strewn across the ocean floor. In the time it takes you to read this word, the data has already traveled from New York to Sydney, Hong Kong to London. The continents are already connected by about 750,000 miles of cable to meet our insatiable want for communication and entertainment. Companies have traditionally combined their resources to work together on underwater cable projects, similar to a shared road.


“People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not” said Jayne Stowell, who oversees construction of Google’s undersea cable projects. “It’s in the ocean.” The cables start out as a collection of strands made of small glass fiber threads. Using fiber-optic technology, lasers transmit data down the threads at a rate that is almost as fast as light. The information required to read an email or visit a website is transferred to a person's device after they land and connect to a current network.

Although Wi-Fi and phone data plans are how the majority of us access the internet today, physical cables eventually connect those systems, quickly transporting data across countries and seas.

The cables are manufactured in high-speed mills the size of jet engines that encase the wire in copper and carry energy over the line to maintain data flow. Later, materials like plastic, steel, and tar are put to the cable, depending on where it will be placed, to help it endure the variable ocean circumstances. The cables will be thick garden hose size when they are finished. A cable path that avoids underwater dangers requires a year of planning, but the wires must still endure strong currents, rock slides, earthquakes, and interference from fishing trawlers. The projected lifespan of each cable is up to 25 years.

In 1858, the first trans-Atlantic cable linking Britain and the United States was finished. A 16-hour-long message from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan was sent to mark the event. Since then, new wireless and satellite technologies have been developed, but cables continue to be the quickest, most effective, and least expensive method of sending data over the ocean.