Facebook and Microsoft Are Laying a Giant Cable Across the Atlantic

26 May 2016

Facebook and Microsoft Are Laying a Giant Cable Across the Atlantic

“To have a direct connection from Virginia lowers latency,” says Murphy—that is, the time it takes for data to flow from data centers to its ultimate destination. “And that probably provides better quality service.” Other companies are planning cables anchored in this same area, but MAREA will likely be the first. Construction is set to begin in August and completion is expected in October 2017.

Connecting Its Own Way

In connecting to Bilbao in Spain, Ahmad says, the cable will provide a more efficient path not only to Europe but to Africa, the Middle East, and even Asia. All three geographies are increasingly important to Facebook and other Internet giants as they seek new audiences and new sources of revenue. Spanning more than 1.5 billion people, the Facebook social network has saturated the US and European markets, so now the company must focus on new frontiers. And in many respects, that involves building new infrastructure.

The project expands the increasingly enormous computer networks being built by the giants of the Internet.

Facebook is also working to fashion all sorts of new hardware that more rapidly pushes the Internet into those parts of the world that don’t already have it, from solar-powered high-altitude drones to a new breed of wireless antenna. Rather than relying solely on the world’s telecoms and telecom hardware makers, the company is fashioning its own hardware. And in the hopes of pushing this gear into the market, it intends to open source the designs, freely sharing them with the rest of the world.

A similar dynamic is at play with the new undersea cable. Rather than just use what the telecoms provide, the company is building on its own. And a key aspect of the project is that it’s free to use whatever equipment it pleases to plug into the cable. This isn’t necessarily the case with the consortium model. “You’re stuck with whatever system was built initially. And if there has to be an upgrade, all the partners in the consortium have to agree to that upgrade,” Ahmad says. “[The MAREA Project] gives us more control of our own destiny.”

The Real Telecoms

In some ways, this eats into a market once controlled by the big telecoms. “It’s going to get interesting. Who is the real telecommunications provider?” Murphy says. “It’s going to take some of their business away.”

Murphy compares this shift to how Amazon has gained greater and greater control of the infrastructure needed to ship physical packages from place to place, building its own distribution centers, launching its own fleet of trucks, and even exploring the possibility of delivering packages via drone. “The move is similar in the data space, where companies get to an economy of scale where it makes sense for them to handle their own traffic.”

But it should also be said that the Facebooks and the Googles and the Microsofts aren’t taking existing business from the telecoms. They’re just taking potential business. “This does mean that telecoms are carrying somewhat less of the content provider traffic than they would in the past,” says Telegeography’s Stronge. “But a lot of this capacity wasn’t even around a few years ago.”

When you consider that these Internet giants are also using their own dark fiber on land, the upshot is that they are, more and more, taking control of their own destiny. As Murphy points out, if they aren’t beholden to the telecoms, they aren’t beholden either to the whims and the prices of the telecoms or to any disputes over net neutrality (the notion that no company should receive preferential treatment on shared Internet lines.)

With its Fiber division, Google has even gone so far as to become an Internet service provider itself, laying down faster lines all the way to American homes. That means it can potentially control the length and breadth of the network, from you to its many data centers in many parts of the world, and back again. Google doesn’t quite control the entire path from its own data centers to everyone’s front doors. But that’s the direction it’s headed. And, well, so are Facebook and Microsoft.


Comments Comments(0)

Topclass Reporters