The injustice of the shark when the fiber optic cable broke

As the most important infrastructure for connecting the global network, undersea fiber optic cables are prone to breakage and disruption, but most of them are broken due to human impact.

In July 1858, two ships met in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Each ship carries a sea cable only 1.5 cm thick. The two cables were welded together in the middle of the ocean, completing the first 4,000 km long sea cable connecting Europe and North America.

The injustice of the shark when the fiber optic cable broke
The first telegraph cable connecting Europe and North America was completed in 1858. (Photo: CNN).

This cable transmitted the first telegram from Queen Victoria of England to US President James Buchanan. These messages take up to 17 hours to transmit between the two countries via Morse code. This cable then only works for about 1 month.

Today, there are about 380 undersea cables running around the world, with a total length of up to 1.2 million km. Undersea cables are almost invisible to the human eye, but they are the most important infrastructure of the Internet world. In recent years, technology giants such as Facebook, Google or Amazon have also invested in building and operating many undersea cables.

Although the world is increasingly transformed and wireless connections are more diverse, most of the data moving on the network is still through fiber optic lines. If you say the numbers, everyone will be overwhelmed by the amount of data going through the undersea cable.

The injustice of the shark when the fiber optic cable broke
Diagram of cable routes connecting the US and Europe through the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo: TeleGeography).

“People are always looking for Wi-Fi and cellular connections. They don’t think about undersea cables, don’t understand how a bunch of interconnected cables works. They just realize the importance of it. when the cable breaks,” commented Byron Clatterbuck, CEO of seacom cable operator Seacom.

Each fiber optic route costs millions of dollars to complete and install. The cable installation process alone takes several years. The first step is to find the best route, passing through the deep and flat ocean floors, the terrain is less complicated.

The cables will usually be thinner in the middle, running across the ocean floor, because at the bottom of the sea they are quite safe and less prone to damage. The closer to shore, the thicker and more protective the cable should be. In high-risk areas, each cable is sometimes as thick as a water pipe, in which most of the protective layers are made of plastic and steel.

The injustice of the shark when the fiber optic cable broke
Inside the fiber optic cable, the signal is transmitted through very thin glass fibers. However, the cable will be reinforced and protected with multiple layers of material to ensure safety. (Photo: Wired).

At the landing point, many companies also have to build long concrete pipes and put them under the sea to thread the cables in, ensuring they are safe from waves and rocks in the sea.

A sea cable line can be thousands of kilometers long, with a total weight of thousands of tons. The Marea undersea cable line, a cooperation project between Microsoft and Facebook, is 6,600 km long, weighs 4,600 tons and takes a month to put on board for installation. The “spreading” of the cable under the ocean and the complete connection took more than 2 years.

Fiber optic lines can be broken or interrupted for many reasons. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States, affecting many fiber optic cable stations on the coast. This is where the cables connecting North America and Europe land.

“The entire network connection between North America and Europe was disrupted for several hours,” said Frank Rey, director of network strategy at Microsoft.

“Twice a week, there is a problem with some cable in the world,” said Tim Stronge, vice president of telecom research firm TeleGeography.

“We used to see shark bites on cables. Then we had to add steel pipes to protect the cables,” added Guillaume Le Saux, captain of the Pierre de Fermat marine cable repair ship.

The injustice of the shark when the fiber optic cable broke
A cable line can take up to a month to be put on board for installation. (Photo: Mark Majlan).

However, the majority of failures to submarine cables are caused by human impact.

“Up to two-thirds of cable failures are caused by accidents from human activities, such as fishing or ship’s anchorage. Second is natural causes such as earthquakes or ocean shelf fluctuations. “ , said Mr. Stronge.

In the past, there have been several cases of damaged submarine cables with suspected attacks. However, experts say that undersea cable attacks are not as effective as some other forms of attack.

“If you want to disrupt the Internet you will have to attack many cables at the same time. This is the most difficult way to do,” said Mr. Byron Clatterbuck.

The injustice of the shark when the fiber optic cable broke
Damaged fiber optic cables are towed on board to be replaced. (Photo: Wired).

The telecommunications industry always has a backup plan. If an undersea cable is interrupted, a telecommunications company will redirect traffic to another route to reduce damage to customers.

To repair the fiber optic cable, the operator must locate the fault. This job is quite simple, as they can determine the position quite accurately by pulse signal and response time. Then the repair ship will go to the damaged cable location, lift the cable, cut off the damaged section and connect by optical soldering a new cable to the damaged section.

Depending on the location and condition of the break, cable repair can take several days or months.