partially owned by Microsoft, Amazon,
and Facebook. It transmits data at 160
terabits per second, which is “ 16 million times faster than the average home
Internet connection,” says Microsoft.
The Marea cable has enough capacity
to “stream 71 million high-definition
videos simultaneously,” according to
Despite this ongoing change in
cable dominance, undersea cables often force traditional telecoms and the
new guard of tech giants to play nice.
The Marea cable is the result of a
partnership between Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and Telxius, a spinoff
that manages telecom infrastructure
for multinational telecom Telefoni-ca. That is because advanced cables
like Marea are critical to meeting rising demand from the consumers and
businesses both telecoms and tech giants serve.
“Marea comes at a critical time,”
says Microsoft president Brad Smith.
“Submarine cables in the Atlantic
already carry 55% more data than
transPacific routes, and 40% more
data than between the U.S. and Latin
These cables use fiber optics to move
data at high speeds to land, where the
data is then conveyed via fiber optics to
homes and businesses.
Yet, despite the billions of people
relying on the data moved by undersea cables, there are only about 380
of them worldwide as of 2019, according to CNN estimates, though
they span more than 745,000 miles—
or more than three times the distance to the moon.
Given the sheer scope of undersea cables, which often span entire
oceans, The New York Times estimates
an individual undersea cable project can cost up to $350 million. That
is why these cables have historically
been laid by global telecommunications firms with the deep pockets and
technical expertise necessary to undertake these projects. However, tech
companies are increasingly dominating both the use and implementation
of undersea cables.
“Some of the main investors in new
cables now are Google and Facebook,”
says Alan Maudlin, research director
at TeleGeography, a telecommunications research firm, because tech giants are increasingly the ones using
all that undersea bandwidth.
When it comes to global bandwidth
usage, just a handful of services ac-
count for more than a third of all band-
width, according to research from net-
work intelligence company Sandvine.
The company’s Global Intenet Phe-
nomena Report identifies Web-based
media streaming, Netflix, and You-
Tube as the top three users of global
traffic, comprising 34.1% of traffic as
of September 2019. Facebook is also in
the top 10.
Tech giants like Google (which owns
YouTube) and Facebook “have sur-
passed Internet backbone providers—
the traditional telecom carriers—as the
largest users of international capacity,”
according to TeleGeography. The firm
estimates the amount of international
capacity deployed by tech companies
grew eight times from 2014 to 2018.
These undersea cables connect
almost the entire globe. Google is
a part or sole owner of 15 different
undersea cables, with end points
terminating in places that include
Chile and France. Facebook is a ma-
jor capacity buyer or part owner of 10
cables with end points in Singapore,
China, and the U.S. (among other
countries). Amazon is part owner or
a major capacity buyer of five cables,
with end points in countries that
include Malaysia. Microsoft is part
owner or a major capacity buyer of
four different cables, with end points
in countries that include Spain.
One of the fastest undersea cables
in operation today is the Marea cable,
How the Internet
Spans the Globe
The modern Internet is made possible by
hundreds of thousands of miles of undersea cables.
Technology | DOI: 10.1145/3371411 Logan Kugler
There are more than 745,000 miles of submarine cables supporting the billions of people
who rely on the Internet.