Google has announced plans to build a new submarine network cable linking the US, UK and Spain.
The tech giant says it is introducing new technologies into the cable, which it says is a significant upgrade to old existing lines.
The project is expected to be completed by 2022.
Submarine data cables are vital to the global communications infrastructure, and Google estimates that they account for about 98% of the world’s data.
Cables are typically created by communication firms – usually a group of them pooling resources – who then instruct other companies to use them.
The final cable, named “Grace Hopper” after the American computer scientist and naval rear admiral, will reach the UK in Buda, Cornwall. This is Google’s fourth private submarine cable.
But Google needs “an ever-increasing amount of transatlantic bandwidth,” according to John Delaney of telecommunications analyst IDC.
“Creating their own cables helps them choose the most optimal cable routes,” he says.
“It also minimizes operating costs by reducing the need to pay telcos and other third-party cable owners to use their infrastructure.”
Jane Stowell, who oversees the construction of Google’s submarine cable projects, told the BBC that she needed an internet connection she could rely on.
“It is not enough to have one cable, because any element in the network can fail from time to time, and if it is at a depth of 8,000 meters under water, repairs take some time,” she said.
Under the sea
The first transatlantic telecommunications cable was built in 1858, connecting Ireland and the United States by telegraph.
About 750,000 miles of cable have already been laid between continents to meet the demand for communications and entertainment – enough to travel the world nearly 17 times.
Cables have to withstand major hazards, including earthquakes and high currents, and have a lifespan of approximately 25 years.
But Ms Stowell says some transatlantic cables “are failing and we need new, better and more sophisticated technologies.”
“It served its purpose and needs at the time, but this is the old generation,” she said.
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Google has yet to build a cable that will land in mainland China, where its services are limited by the government, and Ms Stowell said there are no plans to lay it for the foreseeable future.
“We understand that we are an American company and we understand the legitimacy of what we must comply with,” she said. But she pointed out that the Asian market was larger than China.
She also drew attention to growing fears that the world will soon see two Internet connections, one controlled by the West and the other by China.
“The World Wide Web depends on interconnected networks. It would be hoped that the networks would be seen as neutral and would continue to interact. ”
Since the introduction of the Covid-19 restrictions, Internet use has skyrocketed around the world. Ofcom reported in April that a record number of UK adults spent a quarter of their waking days online during the lockdown.
As demand for high-speed internet grows around the world, companies continue to look for ways to reach more consumers.
And Google is not alone in striving to own the vital data infrastructure.
For example, Microsoft and Facebook are co-owners of the telecommunications company Telxius, Marea Cable, which runs from the US to Spain.
In May, Facebook announced another 37,000 km (23,000 mi) submarine cable project to provide faster internet in 16 countries in Africa.
Ready for use by 2024, it will triple the capacity of all existing submarine cables serving the continent.
Africa lags behind the rest of the world in terms of Internet access, with only four in 10 people having access to the Internet.
However, with a population of 1.3 billion, it has become a key emerging market for many businesses.