How do the bits from your email to get a friend on the other side of the Earth? As this is the age of wireless devices, and increasing use of satellite navigation and radio, you might think this is done largely by satellite communication. As of 2006, only 1% of international communication is carried over satellite. Today it’s probably less than that. The Earth is one big LAN party. Hundreds of undersea cables connect every continent but Antarctica which is why there are so few MMO players there. Undersea cables use fiber optic technology and are much higher bandwidth and lower latency than radio communication. Counter-intuitively, they are much more cost-effective than satellite, even while costing hundreds of millions to produce, deploy, and maintain.
There is a very cool website with an interactive Google-esque map of the cables at http://www.submarinecablemap.com/.
- The first undersea cables were telegraph carriers in the 1850’s
- Most modern cables carry a few gigabits per second per pair of fibers
- The planned “Emerald Express” Atlantic cable will have a throughput of 40 terabits per second
- Cables break regularly, perhaps 50 a year but proliferation of cables is creating redundancy that prevents communication outages
- During the cold war the US successfully used them to monitor the Soviets