Submarine Cable Basics

Submarine Cable is probably the most important topic for the International traffic. More than 99% of the International traffic , including data, voice and video is carried over Submarine Cables.

But still submarine cables is not very well known topic among the network engineers, especially if you are not working in the Service Provider, Carrier or Telco.

To have a great understanding of SP Networks, you can check my new published Service Provider Networks Design and Perspective Book.

That's why so many people ask me ‘ How country X communicate with the country Y ‘, what are the methods and so on. (The problem is, some of them are not even a network engineer and imagine how hard to explain them the landing points, cable capacities, Exchange Points, fiber, DWDM basics and so on )

Of course submarine cable is not the only way to carry International network traffic, but to carry Tbps (Terabit per second) of capacity in a most possible economical way is only achieved through Submarine Cables. (Satellite and Terrestrial fiber systems are still in use for International communication , but satellite usage is less than 1% of International capacity, just for your reference)

Since this is one of the most important building block for us to carry our network traffic from one country to another country or between continents, I thought it is important for you to understand at least the basics of Sub Marine Cables.

But this is not the only reason, today, after I explained terrestrial and submarine cables in a customer meeting, some asked me, what happens if Saudi Arabia cuts the fiber and live the Qatar without Internet ? (There is ongoing problems between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, thus question was asked). Of course nothing happens but it is important to understand how these systems are built. Thus let's start our International transport systems journey !

Submarine Cables

Submarine Cable is also known as subsea and undersea cable.

Submarine cables use fiber optic infrastructure.

There are approximately 430 submarine cables in service as of 2017 in the World.

Cables are typically as wide as garden hose but of course actual component which carries the light is a diameter of a human hair.

First submarine cables were deployed for telegraph communication, so for purely voice communication, but today (2017) some cable systems carry more than 200 Tbps combined data, voice and video traffic.

What is the length of these Submarine Cables?

  • Cables are laid in deep see directly on the ocean floor but nearer to the shore, cables are buried under the seabed for protection that's why people don't see the cables when they go to the beach
  • As of 2017, more than 1.1 million kilometers sub marine cables are laid in the world
  • Some submarine cables are quite short, like the 131 kilometers. CeltixConnect cable, some submarine cables are quite long such as 20.000 km Asia America Gateway Cable

Users of submarine cable capacity include a wide range of types. Telecom carriers, mobile operators, multinational corporations, governments, content providers, and research institutions all rely on submarine cables to send data around the world.

Ultimately, anyone accessing the internet, regardless of the device they are using, has the potential to use submarine cables

Who builds Submarine Cables?

  • Cables were traditionally owned by telecom carriers who would form a consortium of all parties interested in using the cable. In the late 1990s, an influx of entrepreneurial companies built lots of private cables and sold off the capacity to users.
  • Both the consortium and private cable models still exist today, but one of the biggest changes in the past few years is the type of companies involved in building cables.
  • Content Providers such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon are major investors in new cable.
  • The amount of capacity deployed by private network operators – like these content providers – has outpaced internet backbone operators in recent years. Faced with the prospect of ongoing massive bandwidth growth, owning new submarine cables makes sense for these companies.

Who use Submarine Cables?

  • Users of submarine cable capacity include a wide range of types. Telecom carriers, mobile operators, multinational corporations, governments, content providers, and research institutions all rely on submarine cables to send data around the world.
  • Ultimately, anyone accessing the internet, regardless of the device they are using, has the potential to use submarine cables.

If I call from my mobile phone to one of my friends in U.S now (I am living in Qatar currently as you all might know) I will definitely use one of the submarine cable systems (At least one cable system over TransAtlantic)

Let's have a look at End to End Submarine Cable System Architecture.

Submarine Cable System Architecture

System consist of two parts. Wet and Dry Plants. Dry plants start from the Beach Man Hole which I will introduce in a separate post.

There are many parts which you need to know if you want to learn more about Sub Marine Cable Systems such as Repeaters , PFE (Power Feed Equipment) , SLTE , Landing Points , Repeatered and Repeater-less design choices and so on.

In the separate articles I will share these parts as well. When you learn more about International transport systems, submarine cables, satellites, cross-border terrestrial systems, you will feel how much you increase your networking knowledge. Stay tuned and continue to follow me.

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Orhan Ergun

Orhan Ergun, CCIE/CCDE Trainer, Author of Many Networking Books, Network Design Advisor, and Cisco Champion 2019/2020/2021

He created OrhanErgun.Net 10 years ago and has been serving the IT industry with his renowned and awarded training.

Wrote many books, mostly on Network Design, joined many IETF RFCs, gave Public talks at many Forums, and mentored thousands of his students.  

Today, with his carefully selected instructors, OrhanErgun.Net is providing IT courses to tens of thousands of IT engineers. 

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