Saturday, December 4, 2010

Submarine cables : how the net connected the world

In 1998, just a handful of countries had extensive internet usage.
Today, nearly two billion people have web access via
submarine communication cables
Click on :
Then move the slider below to see how the cable network has spread and internet use has expanded

From TheAtlantic

The Internet is where we live our digital lives. But it's also a physical network of cables that span the globe.

We've clearly come a long, long way since the
first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, which was laid in 1858 between the United States and Great Britain.
Last week, we were lucky enough to have
Hal Wallace, the electricity curator at the National Museum of American History walk us through the story of that very first submarine line.

The line was the brainchild of the financier
Cyrus Field.
He had a stunningly simple plan. Take one British warship and one American frigate, load them up with cable, and navigate them towards each other.
There was nothing fancy about the cable laying process: they just paid out the cable over the back and let it sink into the depths.
When the British and American vessels met up, they spliced the cable together and were in business. You can see the apparatus
here, thanks to Atlantic-Cable's sleuthing.

Map of the 1858 trans-Atlantic cable route

Sadly, the first cable didn't last long.
After three weeks, it stopped working and was never reconnected.
"The operators didn't realize how to work a cable like this," Wallace said. "The signal was very weak, so the answer was, 'More Power Scotty' and they fried the cable."
By the time they laid the more permanent telegraph lines in the 1860s, operators had learned their lesson.

There's a fascinating coda to the story, too.
Contemporary interest in the submarine cable was huge.
In fact, there was a short-lived frenzy after the connection was initially made.
Field, ever the entrepreneur, entered into a deal with Tiffany's to sell chunks of the cable as souvenirs.
So, what you're looking at the top of this post is a Tiffany's branded chunk of submarine cable.
It even came with a certificate of authenticity from Field himself.
The moral of the story? Don't let anyone tell you that technological enthusiasm is something new.
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