In 2016, Google, Facebook, and Pacific Light Data Communication (PLDC) submitted a proposal to connect North America and Asia via six new transoceanic cables.
Of these six cables, four were owned by PLDC, a company based in Beijing. As political tensions worsened between the U.S. and China with trade wars and accusations of espionage by Chinese smartphone company Huawei, this proposal was mostly rejected in the name of national security.
Underwater internet cables as of 2021. Image used courtesy of The New York Times
Now a new proposal has breathed life back into this project, and this time the companies are feeling optimistic about the outcome.
Fiber Optics for Transoceanic Cabling
It may sound like an unbelievable concept, but the world is literally connected by transoceanic cables for internet connectivity.
For many reasons, fiber optic cables are the best choice for these long, underwater connections. First, these cables offer real-time transmission along with very low bit-error rates, reaching capacities up to 2Tbps.
These submarine cables also employ optically-amplified repeaters. These repeaters amplify and repeat the incoming signal to counteract the effects of attenuation and maintain signal integrity. Because optically-amplified repeaters are entirely photonic, there are no electronics in the transmission path. This enables simpler repeaters, which only require low-speed electronics.
Submarine cable system. Image used courtesy of the UK Cable Protection Committee & Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks
Optical fibers also allow the use of wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM), which is a technique to transmit multiple optical signals simultaneously on a fiber pair by using different wavelengths. At best, WDM allows for one fiber to achieve 16 x 2.5 Gbps of information to be carried across the ocean.
Echo and Bifrost
Facebook and Google have made several changes to the proposal from the undersea cable plan several years ago.
For starters, PLDC is no longer involved in the project, meaning the original concept for six cables is now down to two owned by Facebook and Google exclusively. In addition, the original proposal wanted to directly link Hong Kong and California. The new proposal has removed Hong Kong entirely from the picture, instead focusing on connections with Singapore and Indonesia.
Map of Echo and Bifrost. Image used courtesy of Facebook
While still subject to regulatory approval, the first of the two cables, named Echo, is being built by Facebook, Google, and Indonesian telecommunications company XL Axiata. Completion is expected by 2023. The second cable, Bifrost, is being constructed by Facebook along with Indonesia’s Telkom, and Singapore’s Keppel, due to be completed by 2024.
“Connecting the World”
According to Facebook, the new cables will increase overall subsea capacity in the trans-pacific by about 70% while providing internet connection to locations currently lacking connectivity. For a company that has significantly evolved since its inception, Facebook looks to be staying true to its original mission of “connecting the world” with this new project.