Facebook and Google are planning to team up to build a record breaking undersea cable, reaching 8,000 miles to connect Los Angeles and Hong Kong. It will be the longest undersea cable to connect two continents, and will boast the highest capacity of any in the world. At 120 terabytes per second, it will offer roughly twice the capacity of the existing record holder called “Faster”, a cable recently launched by Google and other partners. Construction on the new cable is planned to start this year, to be completed and functioning by 2018.
The cable will be called the Pacific Light Cable Network, or PLCN. It will mark the sixth submarine cable Google has invested in, since the Unity cable system in 2010, which linked the west coast of the US to Japan.
Brian Quigley, director of the Google Networking Infrastructure gave a sense of the cables massive capacity and potential benefits, saying “PLCN will provide enough capacity for Hong Kong to have 80 million concurrent HD video conference calls with Los Angeles. PLCN will bring lower latency, more security, and greater bandwidth to Google users in the APAC region.”
Quigley has also indicated that the PLCN will evolve alongside infrastructure technology, with companies able to independently choose network equipment, and to update the fiber optics used in the PLCN as the technology evolves.
Last May, Google joined with Microsoft to build a 4100-mile cable from Virginia to Spain. Such moves allow these internet giants dedicated capacity, an option these companies are increasingly taking advantage of. This trend against the use of public internet infrastructure is reaching new heights, with private networks reportedly accounting for 60 percent of trans-Atlantic internet traffic. This shift brings benefits to both the companies involved and the internet-using public, increasing the number of routes data can take to travel between continents.
To a similar end, both Facebook and Google have bought up unused fiber optic infrastructure in the US, allowing them the option to bypass the public internet entirely. This represents a significant shift away from the infrastructure that once defined the internet.
These undersea wires carry about 99 percent of international data traffic. Advanced fiber optic cables can transmit data at 99.7 percent of the speed of light. Other options for transmitting data, such as satellites, present problems. With Antarctica the only continent with no physical connection to the internet, scientists there must rely on satellites, which do not offer enough bandwidth to meet the needs of data-intensive climate research there.