Google, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft weave a web of fiber optic power

The internet can look intangible. This is the physical environment where viral posts, virtual commodities, metaverse concerts, etc. occur. But to create that illusion, you need a really huge and fast-growing network of physical connections.

Fiber optic cables, which carry 95% of the world’s international Internet traffic, link to almost every data center in the world, a vast server warehouse where computing is done to convert all 1s and 0s into an Internet experience.

When these fiber optic connections connect countries across the ocean, they consist of cables that run almost entirely underwater. Approximately 1.3 million kilometers (or more than 800,000 miles) of glass thread that make up the actual physical international Internet are bundled together. And until recently, the overwhelming majority of installed undersea fiber optic cables were controlled and used by telecommunications companies and governments. Today it is no longer the case.

In less than a decade, four technology giants, Microsoft, Google’s parents Alphabet, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Amazon, have become the overwhelming dominant users of submarine cable capacity. Prior to 2012, the global market share of submarine fiber optic capacity used by these companies was less than 10%. Today, that number is about 66%.

According to analysts, submarine cable engineers, and the company itself, these four are just getting started. Over the next three years, they will be the leading funders and owners of the web of submarine internet cables connecting the richest and most bandwidth-hungry countries on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, according to submarine cable analysis firm TeleGeography. I am going to be a person. ..

By 2024, the four are projected to own more than 30 long-range submarine cables, each connecting up to thousands of miles in length, connecting all continents around the world except Antarctica. .. In 2010, these companies had ownership of only one such cable. It’s a Unity cable partially owned by Google that connects Japan and the United States.

Traditional carriers have responded with suspicion and even hostility to the ever-increasing demands of technology companies for global bandwidth. Industry analysts have expressed concern about whether we want the world’s most powerful providers of Internet services and marketplaces to also own the infrastructure in which they are all provided. This concern is understandable. Imagine that Amazon owned a road to deliver your luggage.

However, these companies’ involvement in the cable laying industry has reduced the cost of transmitting data across the ocean for everyone, including competitors, and will enable the world to transmit data internationally in 2020 alone. Helped to increase by 41%. Annual report on submarine cable infrastructure.

Submarine cables can cost hundreds of millions of dollars each. Their installation and maintenance requires a small fleet, from survey vessels to specialized cable laying vessels that deploy all sorts of rugged undersea technologies to bury cables beneath the ocean floor. Sometimes it is necessary to lay a relatively fragile cable up to 4 miles deep (at a thin point like a garden hose).

All of this maintains adequate tension in cables and avoids a variety of hazards such as undersea mountains, oil and gas pipelines, high-voltage power lines at offshore wind farms, and even shipwrecks and unexploded bombs. You have to do it while. Howard Kidorf, Managing Partner of Pioneer Consulting, says it helps businesses design and build submarine fiber optic cable systems.

In the past, transatlantic cable laying often required the resources of the government and its domestic carriers. It’s all but a pocketchange to today’s tech giant. Together, Microsoft, Alphabet, Meta and Amazon generated more than $ 90 billion in capital spending in 2020 alone.

The four say they are laying all this cable to increase bandwidth across the world’s most developed regions and improve connectivity to poorly serviced regions such as Africa and Southeast Asia. ..

Not only that. Timothy Stronge, vice president of research at TeleGeography, said their entry into the submarine fiber laying business was inspired by the increased cost of purchasing capacity for cables owned by others, but now they are against more terabytes of bandwidth. It is driven by its own insatiable demand. .. He adds that this has greatly reduced profits for traditional players in the cable laying industry such as NEC, ASN and SubCom. (The same was done for the benefit of wholesalers of submarine cable capacities such as Tata and Lumen.)

By building their own cables, tech giants are saving their money over time they have to pay other cable operators. This means that tech companies don’t have to make a profit to operate their cables in order for their investment to be economically meaningful.

In fact, most of these Big Tech-funded cables are collaborations between rivals. For example, the Marea Cable, which stretches approximately 4,100 miles between Virginia Beach in the United States and Bilbao in Spain, was completed in 2017 and is partly owned by Microsoft, Meta, and Telxius, subsidiaries of Telefonica, Spain’s Telefonica. In 2019, Telxius announced that Amazon has signed a contract with Amazon to use one of eight pairs of fiber optic strands in its cable. In theory, this is one-eighth of the capacity of 200 terabits per second, enough to stream millions of HD movies simultaneously.

Meta works with global and local partners on all submarine cables, as well as with other major technology companies such as Microsoft, said Kevin Salvadori, vice president of network infrastructure for the company.

Sharing bandwidth among competitors allows companies to reserve more cable capacity. Redundancy is essential to keep the world’s Internet humming when cables are cut or damaged. According to the International Cable Protection Commission, a non-profit organization, this happens about 200 times a year. (Repairing a damaged cable is a daunting task that requires the same ship that laid the cable and can take weeks.)

Sharing cables with ostensible competitors, as Microsoft does with Marea cables, almost always makes cloud services, as Microsoft and other cloud providers have explicitly promised in their contracts with customers. The key to making it available. An overview of Microsoft’s Azure network infrastructure.

However, the structure of these transactions also serves other purposes. Reserving some capacity for a telecommunications operator like Telxius is also a way to prevent regulators from getting the idea that these American tech companies themselves are telecommunications, Strong said. say. Technology companies have been claiming in the press and in court for decades that they are not “general carriers” like telephone companies. If so, you are exposed to thousands of pages of regulation specific to that status.

“We are not a carrier. We do not sell bandwidth to make money,” says Salvadori. And we need it, we’re pretty practical, and if we have to invest to make it happen, we’ll do it, “he adds.

There are exceptions to the major technology companies that work with rivals in the underwater infrastructure of the Internet. Google is already the sole owner of three different submarine cables among the major tech companies, and TeleGeography predicts that the total will reach six by 2023.

Google has refused to disclose whether or not it shares the capacity of any of those cables with other companies.

Google is building and building these exclusively owned and operated cables for two reasons, and Google’s senior director Vijay Vusirikala, who is responsible for all of Google’s undersea and ground fiber infrastructure, said. say. First, the company needs them to make its own services, such as Google Search and YouTube Streaming, fast and responsive. The second is to gain an edge in the customer battle for cloud services.

All of these changes in ownership of the Internet infrastructure reflect what we already know about the advantages of the Internet platform by Big Tech, and the Brookings Institution, which specializes in digital transactions and data flows. Says Joshua Meltzer, Senior Fellow of the.

These companies can vertically integrate to the level of the physical infrastructure of the Internet itself, reducing the cost of delivering everything from Google search and Facebook social networking services to Amazon and Microsoft cloud services. .. It also widens the moat between themselves and their potential competitors.

“They can deliver services at unprecedented costs, so we have to imagine that this investment will ultimately make them more dominant in their industry,” says Melzer.

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Google, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft weave a web of fiber optic power

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