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  1. Google makes billions from its cloud platform. Now it’s using those billions to buy up the internet itself — or at least the submarine cables that make up the internet backbone. Above: An operator works during the mooring of an undersea fiber optic cable near the Spanish Basque village of Sopelana on June 13, 2017. In February, the company announced its intention to move forward with the development of the Curie cable, a new undersea line stretching from California to Chile. It will be the first private intercontinental cable ever built by a major non-telecom company. And if you step back and just look at intracontinental cables, Google has fully financed a number of those already; it was one of the first companies to build a fully private submarine line. Google isn’t alone. Historically, cables have been owned by groups of private companies — mostly telecom providers — but 2016 saw the start of a massive submarine cable boom, and this time, the buyers are content providers. Corporations like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon all seem to share Google’s aspirations for bottom-of-the-ocean dominance. I’ve been watching this trend develop, being in the broadband space myself, and the recent movements are certainly concerning. Big tech’s ownership of the internet backbone will have far-reaching, yet familiar, implications. It’s the same old consumer tradeoff; more convenience for less control — and less privacy. We’re reaching the next stage of internet maturity; one where only large, incumbent players can truly win in media. Consumers will soon need to decide exactly how much faith they want to place in these companies to build out the internet of tomorrow. We need to decide carefully, too; these are the same companies that are gaining access to a seemingly ever-increasing share of our private lives. Walling off the garden If you want to measure the internet in miles, fiber-optic submarine cables are the place to start. These unassuming cables crisscross the ocean floor worldwide, carrying 95-99 percent of international data over bundles of fiber-optic cable strands the diameter of a garden hose. All told, there are more than 700,000 miles of submarine cables in use today. While past cable builders leveraged cable ownership to sell bandwidth, content providers are building purposefully private cables. The internet is commonly described as a cloud. In reality, it’s a series of wet, fragile tubes, and Google is about to own an alarming number of them. The numbers speak for themselves; Google will own 10,433 miles of submarine cables internationally when the Curie cable is completed later this year. The total shoots up to 63,605 miles when you include cables it owns in consortium with Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. Including these part-owned cables, the company has enough submarine infrastructure to wrap around the earth’s equator two-and-a-half times (with thousands of cable miles to spare). The impetus for Google’s submarine projects This submarine cable boom makes more sense when you look at the growth of traffic that’s taken place in the past decade. In the Atlantic and Pacific, content providers accounted for over half of total demand in 2017. Content provider data use has skyrocketed from less than eight percent to near 40 percent in the past 10 years. It should be noted here that stats are significantly lower in Africa and the Middle East, suggesting that developed nations hunger for video content and cloud apps are a driver of the trend. This is supported by overall international bandwidth use between countries. In 2017, India only used 4,977 Mbps of international bandwidth. The U.S. used a staggering 4,960,388 Mbps that same year. The cost of privatized infrastructure Like the removal of Net Neutrality, privatizing internet infrastructure has only reduced prices for consumers. The problem we now face is a moral one: Do we want a private internet? Or do we want to preserve the “Wild West” web that we’ve had to this point? Unfortunately, the question isn’t as simple as drawing a line between “good” and “bad” network optimizations. Practices like edge networking and zero-rating are critical to the business models of companies like Netflix and AT&T — they also don’t technically violate the rules, and ultimately deliver much better services to consumers. As we look to the future, we need to start asking ourselves what the internet is really going to look like whenever the content services that already command so much of our attention are in control of the internet backbone as well. Privatized infrastructure may bring untold benefits for consumers in the short run, but is there a cost we aren’t considering? Source
  2. For years, countries have worried that a hostile foreign power might cut the undersea cables that supply the world with internet service. Late last month, we got a taste of what that might be like. An entire country, Mauritania, was taken offline for two days because an undersea cable was cut. The 17,000-kilometer African Coast to Europe submarine cable, which connects 22 countries from France to South Africa, was severed on March 30, cutting off web access partially or totally to the residents of Sierra Leone and Mauritania. It also affected service in Ivory Coast, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Gambia, and Benin, according to Dyn, a web-infrastructure company owned by Oracle. (Oracle Dyn) It is not clear how the cable was cut. But the government of Sierra Leone seems to have imposed an internet blackout on the night of March 31 in an attempt to influence an election there. There had not been a significant outage along the cable in the past five years. Loss of service to Mauritania was particularly severe, as the Dyn chart below shows. "The most significant and longest-lasting disruption was seen in Mauritania, with a complete outage lasting for nearly 48 hours, followed by partial restoration of connectivity," David Belson wrote in a Dyn research blog on Thursday. (Oracle Dyn) The international cable system has several levels of built-in redundancy that allowed providers such as Africell, Orange, Sierra Leone Cable, and Sierratel to restore service. But the break shows just how vulnerable the worldwide web is to the simple act of cutting a cable. About 97 percent of all international data is carried on such cables, according to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Here's a map from the telecom analytics company TeleGeography of the cables in Europe: (TeleGeography) And those connecting the US: (TeleGeography) UK and US military intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that relatively little is done to guard the safety of the cables and that Russia's navy continually conducts activities near them. In 2013, three divers were arrested in Egypt after attempting to cut submarine web cables. "In the most severe scenario of an all-out attack upon undersea cable infrastructure by a hostile actor the impact of connectivity loss is potentially catastrophic, but even relatively limited sabotage has the potential to cause significant economic disruption and damage military communications," James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral, said in a 2017 report for the think tank Policy Exchange. "Russian submarine forces have undertaken detailed monitoring and targeting activities in the vicinity of North Atlantic deep-sea cable infrastructure," he added. There is no indication that Russia was involved in the ACE breakage. But military strategists are likely to study the Mauritania break as an example of the effect of knocking a country off the web by cutting its cables. < Here >
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