Brief History of Undersea Cables

In a previous post from 2008 regarding the large scale (albeit temporary) loss of Internet connectivity in the Middle East and India, I discovered a great map of the world’s undersea cables. This map came up in discussion again recently and more specifically, how and when did all of the cables get there?

This reminded me of a related article from earlier this year which talked about the World’s Critical Infrastructure and which included a basic time line of some of the word’s undersea cables:

  • 1850: First international telegraph link, England-France, later cables joined other European countries & USA with Canada.
  • 1858: First trans-Atlantic cable laid between Ireland & Newfoundland; failed after 26 days & new cable was laid in 1866.
  • 1866: First trans-Atlantic (copper) cable carried telegraph messages at 12 words a minute. These cables were promoted as the eighth wonder of the world emphasizing cooperation between UK and the United States.
  • 1884: First underwater telephone cable service from San Francisco to Oakland.
  • 1920: Short-wave radio superseded cables for voice, picture & telex traffic.
  • 1956: First trans-Atlantic (TAT-1) telephone cable initially had a capacity of 36 telephone calls at a time; calls cost $12 for the first 3 minutes. Invention of repeaters (1940s) & their use in TAT-1.
  • 1961: Beginning of high quality, global network.
  • 1986: First international fiber-optic cable joins Belgium & UK.
  • 1988: First Atlantic fiber-optic cable, TAT-8, had a capacity for 40,000 simultaneous phone calls, 10 times that of the last copper cable. This is when submarine cables started to outperform satellites in terms of the volume.
  • Today: Each fiber pair within a cable has the capacity to carry information including video that is equivalent to 150,000,000 simultaneous phone calls. Almost all transoceanic telecommunications are now routed via the submarine cable network instead of satellite.

The failure after just 26 days of the first cable to be laid from Ireland made me smile.

Source: CircleID, 26 April 2010