Telegeography, the research firm tracking underground cables and IP transit costs around the world has published the latest version of its submarine cable map, and it’s, well, beautiful. I have one of these (it’s next to my spectrum chart) but the old map is pretty functional, showing the cables, their capacity, owners and their landing spots. It’s a visual reminder that the internet is grounded in some very physical infrastructure.
The design of our new map was inspired by antique maps and star charts, and alludes to the historic connection between submarine cables and cartography. We drew inspiration from a number of sources including Maury’s New Complete Geography (Revised Edition) published by American Book Company in 1921 and The Timechart History of the World, a collection of antique timelines published by Third Millennium Press.
This one might actually make it into a frame. The map shows the 232 lit cables as well as the 12 anticipated to come online before 2014. These cables connect countries to the internet, by providing connectivity so your emails from San Francisco can make it to Prague. After a huge boom in the 2000-2002 time frame construction on undersea cables pretty much halted, but in 2008 and 2009 new ones (financed in part by new players such as Google) were built.
These cables can act as somewhat of a proxy for our overall demand, and also play a role in lowering connectivity costs to places. Recently, for example Cuba has connected to an undersea cable, which means it will no longer have to rely on satellite connectivity. Residents should see faster connections and cheaper connections as a result. Africa is another place where cable construction is on the rise, which should help meet that continent’s demand for bandwidth.
As an encouraging note, the map shows that so far we’re only using 36 percent of the purchased capacity on the cables, which gives the internet plenty of growing room. I’m pretty sure we can figure out ways to fill that up.