The Submarine Cable Network Unraveled

The growth of global Internet traffic has driven an exponential expansion of the submarine cable network (SCN), both in terms of the sheer number of links and its total capacity. Today, a complex mesh of hundreds of cables, stretching over 1 million kilometers connecting nearly every corner of the earth, provides nearly all intercontinental Internet connectivity. It serves as the operational backbone of global services like those of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, and is critical for addressing connectivity needs in underserved areas of the world. For example, increasing international capacity typically results in wholesale and consumer price (broadband) drops; even a 10% increase in broadband Internet access can yield an increase of 1.38% in Gross Domestic Product.

Despite the scale and criticality of the SCN, very little has been reported in the research literature on its characteristics or its broader role in the global Internet. There is a distinct dearth of publicly available information about many of these cable systems features, how they interconnect with terrestrial infrastructure, how they are managed, and how services utilize them. Indeed, most past studies have either treated the SCN as a black box or focused on specific events and their impact on particular links or networks. This lack of understanding of the SCN, coupled with its complexity and rapid growth, makes it increasingly difficult to manage and maintain, and more vulnerable to problems that degrade performance or disrupt services that rely on it.

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


Group members

External collaborators

Former members and collaborators

  • Shucheng “Alex” Liu (Northwester U.)
  • Ishaan Madan (Northwester U.)
  • Peter K. Chan (Northwester U.)


Shucheng Liu, Zachary S. Bischof, Ishaan Madan, Peter K. Chan, Fabián E. Bustamante

Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind - A User-View on the Criticality of the Submarine Cable Network Conference

Proc. of ACM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC), 2020.

Abstract | BibTeX | Links:

Zachary S. Bischof, Romain Fontugne, Fabián E. Bustamante

Untangling the world-wide mesh of undersea cables Workshop

ACM Workshop on Hot Topics in Networks (HotNets), 2018.

Abstract | BibTeX | Links: