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Map of worldwide undersea cables (cablemap.info)
148 points by mixmax on Aug 16, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

If this interests you, Neal Stephenson's chronicle the FLAG cable getting laid is required reading: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass_pr.html

Is there any magazine today like the Wired of the mid-1990s?

Is Ars Technica close?

No, not really. In fairness, a lot of old Wired articles were also really bad.

I just wanted to post that too, you beat me to it.

Seriously, go read it. It's an amazing report.

Whoa, nice error:

    Server Error in '/' Application.
    The process cannot access the file 'C:\Users\www.womble.co.za\cable_map\landing_stations.js' because it is being used by another process.

    Line 236:  public void PutFileContents(string filename, string txt)
    Line 237:  {
    Line 238:      TextWriter tw = new StreamWriter(filename);
    Line 239:      tw.Write(txt);
    Line 240:      tw.Close();
It seems that there is a race condition where each web request tries to open this file, and Windows doesn't let you have the file open multiple times (at least with the chosen options).

If people near San Luis Obispo are interested in seeing the maps of the cable landings there, check out the library at Cuesta College, they have a huge binder there mapping out the full route of cables from where they land in Los Osos to San Luis Obispo.

I also spoke with an electrician who worked at the landing site in Los Osos, he said that the building is very nondescript and that the stairwell has a huge mural of what one might see if they were actually in the water, and not in a stairwell.

Quite a lot of those cables split in the middle of the ocean but zooming in I don't see any islands. What would such an undersea junction look like? Or would it be a platform?

I have a feeling they're actually separate cables that are laid at the same time. Maybe they're even bound together in some way. It would be interesting to know for sure.

EDIT: it turns out the cables do actually branch, using one of these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_branching_unit

Why is there a 5TBps line from the northern part of mainland Norway up to Svalbard? Is there much telecomms there?

From Svalbard you can see pretty much every polar orbit once per orbit, plus Norway is politically stable and very liberal with research licenses there, plus it’s warm for the latitude. So there’s demand from the kind of people who have polar-orbiting satellites that produce a lot of data.

Just to confirm your arguments, I'm quoting from from http://www.aftenposten.no/english/local/article545833.ece: "Although stretching cable for about 3,000 kilometers from Andoeya to Longyearbyen seems inconvenient, the spot has been carefully chosen. Svalbard Satellite Station (SvalSat) has specialized in retrieving data from satellites in polar orbit..."

And then from http://www.ksat.no/Products/Svalsat.htm: "The satellite coverage at this latitude holds unique opportunities and SvalSat is the only commercial ground station in the world able to provide all-orbit-support (14 of 14 orbits) to owners and operators of polar orbiting satellites."

Svalbard has the global seed vault and NASA is doing things there. I would assume it's largely used for research.

I was going to comment on that one too: looks like they have a lot of bandwidth for the population.

Aside from the "research" answers, it's probably the government trying to give them something to do besides drinking all winter long:-)

From Wikipedia: "The most notable feature of Longyearbyen's climate is the lack of sunlight for over 4 months of the year in winter"

wikipedia helps with that:


The earth/ground station on Svalbard is a key site for collecting remote sensing data from polar orbiting satellites, such as those from NOAA, due to its close proximity to the north pole (many of these satellites are polar orbitors; e.g. follow an orbit which almost crosses over the pole).

NATO defence installation, maybe?

No. From Wikipedia:

"The Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920 recognizes Norwegian sovereignty, and the 1925 Svalbard Act made Svalbard a full part of the Kingdom of Norway. They also established Svalbard as a free economic zone and a demilitarized zone."


"Svalbard is a demilitarized zone, as the treaty prohibits the establishment of military installations. Norwegian military activity is limited to fisheries surveillance by the Norwegian Coast Guard. The treaty requires Norway to protect the natural environment."

You can't scroll across the Pacific, you can't even see the lines across the Pacific as whole with both ends. But Bing maps can do that, what's wrong here? It's quite a problem with this type of map.

Not very surprising, but there is a perfect correlation between the major "junctions" and Amazon's 4 data centers spanning the world, situated in North California (us-west-1), North Virginia (us-east-1), Ireland (eu-west-1) and Singapore (ap-southeast-1).

Recently I published an article describing how we find the closest data center using GeoIP and indexing, might be of interest. http://www.turnkeylinux.org/blog/geoip-amazon-regions

Pretty interesting stuff. I was hoping to correlate some of my traceroutes with these cables to figure out how my own international traffic is routed, but it seems that with the rise of optical routing, not enough intermediate hops show up for me to figure it out. For example, San Jose to Copenhagen seems to be a single hop for me, so I have no idea what transatlantic cable my data takes:


It could be Layer II routed - then the intermediate hops won't show up in traceroute (a Layer III protocol)

Ah yeah, that's probably more likely than layer 1 routing. There does seem to be an increase in it, though; unless I'm mistaken, I seem to recall that 10 years ago it was a bit easier to get a rough idea of the geographical hops a packet was taking. It seems quite a few large providers these days only do one layer 3 hop, so all you see is the entry and exit at the borders of their network.

Map of worldwide cell towers http://client0.cellmaps.com/tabs.html#cellmaps_intl_tab is also interesting

You can definitely see why 3g service is so much better in Europe, Japan and Korea than in the U.S.

Hoped if I zoomed in close enough I would be able to find the taps. But still awesome.

what's the diameter of one of these cables? are they literally laid on the ocean floor?

You can see one at http://www.itnewsafrica.com/?p=3111

And yes, they are laid on the floor, mostly. In shallows they may be armored against sharks or plowed in to protect against anchors.

The Neal Stephenson, WIRED article is an excellent read, but honestly unless you have a new Safari or some bookmarklet to extract the content from the surrounding flashing lights and popping ads you will probably go blind before you finish it.

I've always wondered this as well. Are they contained in pipes or something? How do they deal with mountains and cliffs in the ocean? Do they go right over them or around them? Does anybody have information about the physical characteristics of how this works?

Usually 69 millimetres (2.7 in). They are slightly thicker near the shore where they have an extra layer of protection.

I find it absolutely mind-blogging that this is truly how our communication/internet infrastructure is implemented. Its almost unbelievable to me.

Plenty more of interest at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_telegraph_cable, which covers the first transatlantic telegraph cable. Anything to do with electrical communications that smells of rubber and seawater makes me happy.

Guam has more cables going into it than all of Australia or Africa.

Thanks to the presence of the US military.

I get a really icky page error. The .NET server is even very helpfully showing me the first four lines of the PutFileContents() function.

I have the same experience -- I'm getting very familiar ASP.NET crash page. They didn't even bother to setup custom error page for production web site. --- The process cannot access the file 'C:\Users\www.womble.co.za\cable_map\landing_stations.js' because it is being used by another process. ---

How vulnerable are the cables to physical attack (i.e., drag something heavy and sharp along the ocean floor)?

There are about 50 repairs in the Atlantic each year. The cables are damaged by anchors and fishing lines and even things like shark bites and whale entanglements.

I remember Egypt getting cut off as quite a big story here (UK), http://dailystaregypt.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=18746

Google it, it seems to happen every few months but most countries have some limited backup.

Latest appears to be this one, http://allafrica.com/stories/201007290937.html

There is also at least one submarine out there that has probably been modified to access submarine cables:


The US tapped an undersea Soviet cable in the 1970s:


Ok - I'm curious. How do you lay a cable across the Atlantic Ocean - a length that spans thousands of miles?

I thought about this too, so I let my imagination wander:

Solution 1: Perhaps there's a ship pulling a cable attached to a reel, and it periodically drops the cable in the ocean with an anchor weight. The first few times they did this, the engineers miscalculated the length of the cable. As the ship sailed on, the reel got ripped from the ship's hull, the boat sank and the captain didn't have a connection to send an SOS. Ironically, the connection was at the bottom of the ocean, still attached to the reel.

Solution 2: Organize dolphins to pull cables across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the spinner dolphin species was chosen, resulting in many miles of twisted fiber-optic cable. As you know, having kinks in fiber-optic cables is a bad thing.

Solution 3: Use the Blues Brothers' car (with a cop engine, cop suspension and cop brakes), roll up the windows and drive across the sea floor, laying the cable down. I think this is how they actually did it

While I'm glad they actually managed to include NZ, they could make it a little more convenient to view...

Is that map complete? Almost none of the cables seem to touch Russia.

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