The first undersea transatlantic cable was completed in 1858, allowing communication between America and Great Britain with those newfangled telegraph machines. On August 16, President James Buchanan and Queen Victoria exchanged formal messages using the new medium. Unfortunately, it failed a few months later, but a historic milestone had been reached. Now, more than 159 years later, a joint project between Microsoft, Facebook, and telecommunications company Telxius is complete with the 4,000 mile “Marea” undersea cable connecting Virginia and Bilbao, Spain.
The monsterous Marea cable (Spanish for “tide”) weighs more than 10 million pounds. Marea runs more than 17,000 feet under the sea in places, and it has encountered such obstacles as undersea volcanoes, earthquake zones, and coral reefs. It uses a route south of existing undersea cable systems to ensure a reliable, constant connection.
Microsoft touted the capabilities of the new intercontinental connection in a blog post, pointing out that the cable’s “open” design enables it to upgrade with more advanced technologies, with a massive bandwidth capability of 160 terabytes of data per second. For comparison, that’s more than 16 million times faster than your average home internet connection. You could watch 71 million high-definition streaming Netflix movies simultaneously through the cable, if you so desired.
“All of these applications, especially everything that is driven by video, consume a huge amount of bandwidth,” noted Rafael Arranz, chief operating officer for Telxius. “So everybody needs to be connected with a high-volume, high-bandwidth infrastructure. With its unique route, this cable is going to be able to absorb and deliver back-and-forth traffic to strengthen communications, not just across the Atlantic, but across the globe.”
The need for a reliable transatlantic connection was underscored by the damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Widespread flooding disabled servers, knocked out websites, and disrupted the world economy. “The entire network between North America and Europe was isolated for a number of hours,” said Frank Rey of Microsoft. “For us, the storm brought to light a potential challenge in the consolidation of transatlantic cables that all landed in New York and New Jersey.”
This is not Microsoft’s first venture in undersea cables. In 2015, the company announced a collaboration to connect its North American data center to Ireland and England. Google is also getting in on the action, teaming up with five Asian firms for a trans-Pacific cable dubbed “Faster.” It recently extended the undersea cable to provide service to Taiwan.