The world’s information infrastructure is now predominantly composed of fiber-optic cables. Its backbone is an ever expanding intricate network of submarine fiber optic cables stretching all across the globe. Today, the increased demand for high bandwidth is creating a booming industry for privatisation of national telecommunications, with a race to lay the fastest routes from East to West. In 1988, the first fiber-optic cable TAT-8 was laid across the Atlantic. The 3,148 mile long line was capable of handling 40,000 telephone calls simultaneously. This very moment was the beginning of the con…
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Exhibition Debut

Photos by Boudewijn Bollmann

Growth of Submarine Cable Network

Since the 1990s, the submarine fibre market has been characterised by rapid development in optical technology, which has improved both network efficiency and system design capacity. Over the last 30 years, the industry has gone from measuring capacity in Megabits in the early 90s to systems with hundreds of Terabits in 2019. Diagrams by RAND Corporation.

Historic Growth Of Submarine Cable Capacity

Growth In Cable Communication

Relative Submarine Cable System Capacity

Contemporary Submarine Cable Infrastructure

Territories and Cable Installation

Submarine Cable Design

Glass Pre-form to Fiber Animation

From Silica to Submarine Communications Cable

Fountain of Light Pulses

Final Films

Terabytes per Second

Anna Diljá Sigurðardóttir

The world’s information infrastructure is now predominantly composed of fiber-optic cables. Its backbone is an ever expanding intricate network of submarine fiber optic cables stretching all across the globe. Today, the increased demand for high bandwidth is creating a booming industry for privatisation of national telecommunications, with a race to lay the fastest routes from East to West. In 1988, the first fiber-optic cable TAT-8 was laid across the Atlantic. The 3,148 mile long line was capable of handling 40,000 telephone calls simultaneously. This very moment was the beginning of the continuously expanding global telecommunications network.

Fiber optics began as a thing of beauty—a play with light. In 1840 researchers explored using jets of water to guide light in laboratory settings, making the invisible visible. Eventually, these experiments caught the attention of theatres and operas for special effects, such as luminous fountains and optical devices for magic. This formed the basin of modern communication and in 1966 a remarkable discovery was made showcasing that information could be carried over vast distances by transforming grains of sand to thin glass fibers. The fibres which are made of fused silica sand create a glass of incredible purity and clarity. Enabling a process to turn voice into pulses of invisible infrared light, with the ability to reliably and rapidly transmit large volumes of data and voice traffic.

Today, there are 406 submarine cables draped across the ocean floor, covering over 1.2 million kilometers around the world. These cables, only as thick as a garden hose, can carry more than one trillion bits per second, equivalent to 13 million telephone calls, and have reshaped our understanding of distance, trade and proximity irreversibly. With growing demands the numbers of cables on the seabed increase as they connect continents at the speed of light and provide the infrastructure that our lives have come to depend on.

Credits

Thanks to: SubCom LLC, for SL17 Single armor cable sample
British Telecom, for piece of recovered BT subsea cable; Nextrom, optical fiber production technologies for documentation and support of fibres; TeleGeography, for supporting data map

Additional Material

Read an interview with Anna Diljá Sigurðardóttir on The Subsea Space Race for Cable Sovereignty Link

All 406 Active International and Domestic Telecommunication Submarine Cables as of March 2020 - Subsea Cable Map PDF Link

Future Frontier in the Arctic - Subsea Cable Map PDF Link

References

"Articles 112–115," United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, December 10, 1982. Link

Daria Shvets, "Law of the Sea and Environmental Law acting together: Experience of laying submarine cable in the Arctic," Revista Catalana de Dret Ambiental 9, no. 1 (2018): 1–36. Link

Jeff Hecht, City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Link

Morris H. Shamos et al., "Fiber Optics," American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1965. Link

PriMetrica, Inc., Submarine Cable Map, 2020. Link

Richard Goforich, "Charles K. Kao, February 1966, Optical fibre pioneer & 2009 Physics Nobel Prize," YouTube, January 21, 2010. Link

Submarine Cable Network Systems, eds. Shigeyuki Akiba and Shigendo Nishi (Tokyo: NTT Quality Printing Services, 2001). Link

"Submarine cables—Landing Points," Opendatasoft. Link

Suvesh Chattopadhyaya, "Submarine Cables in APAC—Current Status & Outlook for 2019–20," Submarine Cable Networks, October 30, 2018. Link

Thomas E. Schaefer Jr. et al., "Shoreline Erosion and Impact to Cable Protection," SubOptic, 2013. Link

Thomas Pfeiffer and Ilya Khrennikov, "Melting Arctic Means New Undersea Cables for High-Speed Traders," Bloomberg, September 12, 2019. Link

Thomas Seal, "The Undersea Cable Market Is Booming Again, This Time Funded by Big Tech," Bloomberg Businessweek, March 14, 2019. Link

Bio

Anna Diljá Sigurðardóttir is an Icelandic designer based in the Netherlands. She graduated cum laude from Design Academy Eindhoven, BA Food Non Food, in 2019. With an interest in geopolitics, earth sciences and cartography, her work often investigates how to translate scientific data and journalistic topics into a comprehensive multi-perspective story. She develops research-based narratives that support better understanding of complex information, using various media such as graphical formats, moving image, installation, and sculptural work. She is currently working as an independent researcher, specializing in communication and information design, while also mentoring at Design Academy Eindhoven.

Contacts

annadiljasigurdar.com Link

@adilja Link