APNIC GUEST POST: Untangling the worldwide mesh of undersea cables

The growth of global Internet traffic has driven a drastic expansion of the submarine cable network. Today, a complex mesh of hundreds of cables, stretching over one million kilometres, connects nearly every corner of the earth and is instrumental in closing the remaining connectivity gaps. Despite the scale and critical role of the submarine network for both business and society at large, the networking community has mostly ignored it, treating it as a black box in most Internet studies. An invited post for the APNIC blog.

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Ninety-nine percent of all international data is carried by a mesh cable network at the bottom of the ocean. While initial deployments of the submarine network date back to the mid-19th century, the recent explosion on Internet traffic has driven an exponential growth of the total capacity of this undersea infrastructure.

Today, a complex mesh of hundreds of cables stretching over 1 million kilometers connects nearly every region in the world. It constitutes at once both the operation backbone of global services like those of Google, Facebook and Microsoft, and a critical piece in closing the remaining connectivity and under-connectivity gaps.

Yet, despite the impressive scale and criticality of the submarine cable network, we lack a clear understanding of its role in the global Internet. Past studies have either treated it as a black box or focused on specific events and their impact on particular links.

We make the case for a new research agenda focused on characterizing the global submarine network and the critical role it plays as an essential component of any inter-continental end-to-end connection..

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