April 1, 2023

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Tonga’s volcano shows the impact of undersea cables connecting the world

debt, Reuters

Photo caption,

An underwater volcanic eruption was recorded on January 15.

The Internet in our home and workplace is the result of the Titanic mission that began a century ago. Cables have been laid under the sea for more than 1 billion meters since the 19th century to transmit data over long distances.

The current situation in Tonga, an island nation that was cut off from communications after a volcanic eruption beneath the sea, underscores the need for this technology.

From telegraph to internet

The first cables connecting the continents began to be installed for the telegraph network in the late 19th century.

The first of these large cross-sectional communication systems was created to connect the United Kingdom and the United States.

debt, Getty Images

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The first submarine cables were copper, which was established in the 19th century to transmit telegraph signals.

Initially, cables helped run copper and telegraph service, but in the Internet age, already in the 1980s, fiber optic cables began to be installed.

The laying of the pipes is done by special boats, which gently separate the large spools of cables that are laid to the sea floor.

These cables have multiple repeaters that amplify the signal every 100 km.

These “undersea highways” are capable of transmitting approximately 3,840 gigabits per second of fiber optic strand, equivalent to the content of 102 DVDs per second.

And each cable has several pairs of fiber strands to enhance its transmission capacity.

Submarine cables of the world

There are more than 400 submarine cables covering a distance of 1.3 million km worldwide.

There is a major highway in the Atlantic Ocean connecting Europe and North America.

The Great Pacific Highway, on the other hand, connects the United States with Japan, China, and other Asian countries.

debt, Getty Images

Photo caption,

Fiber optic fibers are protected by materials such as polyethylene and aluminum, but they are still vulnerable to accidents and shark attacks.

From Miami, many cables reach Central and South America.

For example, in the case of Mexico, most cables run from the east of the country across the Gulf of Mexico to Florida – from where they connect to Central and South America.

Vulnerable and important

The optical fiber in submarine cables is protected by several layers with materials such as steel, aluminum and polyethylene. However, accidental damage was caused by the boat anchor, large-scale fishing activities and shark bites.

Vulnerable to natural disasters, especially earthquakes. In 2006, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook the southwestern coast of Taiwan.

The quake and other minor earthquakes cut eight cables under the sea, severely affecting internet services and financial transactions in many Asian countries, especially in the forex market.

Submarine cables are the vehicle that drives today’s connected world.

They transmit more information at a much lower cost than satellites and are behind everything we do on the Internet and on our phones (from calls to text messages to software downloads).

In the UK, for example, Defense Minister Ben Wallace announced last year that the British Royal Navy would build a new surveillance ship to protect Internet cables under the country’s.

Surveillance autonomous and remotely operated underwater drones detect foreign interference. Wallace told the BBC that Russia had a “deep interest” in the telegram and that the UK could be “exposed” without proper protection.

After the volcanic eruption in the Pacific on January 15, the importance of submarine cables for communications became clear.

debt, Reuters

Photo caption,

Houses in Tonga on December 29 (pictured above) and below, after the explosion on January 18.

The main island of Tonga was covered in ash and the west coast of the country was reportedly devastated. Up to 80,000 people may have been affected.

The eruption was strongest in New Zealand, about 2,300 kilometers from Tonga.

Hours later, Tonga’s telephone and Internet connections were cut off by a damaged submarine cable, leaving almost 105,000 islanders unaware.

“We are receiving incomplete information, but the undersea cable appears to have been severed,” Dean Weverka, network director for the Southern Cross Cable Network, told AFP.

Repairing damaged submarine cables can be an expensive task and can take weeks. Special vessels are needed to lift the cable from the bottom of the sea, repair the surface, remove the damaged part, and disassemble the rest.

Southern Cross provides technical assistance to Tonga Cable Ltd., which owns the 872km cable that connects Tonga to Fiji, which is responsible for connecting the country with the rest of the world, AFP said.

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