The internet IS a series of tubes


Scan originally appeared in Wired 03.11, November 1995.

From back when two dedicated 2mbit lines were enough to support an entire video-on-demand business concept.

This ad is a nice reminder that the much-mocked former Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was only partially wrong when he famously said that the Internet is a series of tubes. There is a wonderful physicality of the Internet: Your g-mails are not floating around up in a cloud, they are firmly grounded on a field in Oklahoma. And for data to cross the ocean, it needs a tube - or submarine cable, if you want to be specific - from one coast to another. They weigh 10kg per meter (7 lb/ft), and the oceanic network looks something like this:

The longest one is 39.000km (pretty much a trip around the world) going from Germany to South Korea, with 39 landing points on its way.

The combined capacity of all trans-Atlantic cables is nearly 40T bits per second (Tbps), and even though it sounds like a lot, it's another reason why flat-rate Internet subscriptions might go up in price over the next years: These cables are reaching capacity, and it doesn't look like the current business-models support the investments needed.

New Scientist
The Guardian
PC World

Comments (4)

Let's not forget that we all are the beneficiaries of the Dot Com bubble burst. Most of those tubes were laid in the late 90's when the sky was the limit and overcapacity was rampant. After the crash, long haul capacity was virtually free and remained well below any rational price for the rest of the 2000's decade. Web 2.0 stands on the shoulders of all those stockholders and VCs who lost it all on Global Crossing, WorldCom, NorthPoint, XO, Covad, and the like. The current higher capacity usage are attributable to India and China; we'll see if they're willing to pay fair market rates once there is no more dark fiber.

Um, the cables themselves are submarine, but they are not laid my submarines. Submarine cables are laid by surface ships.

Love the site!

oh my, how embarrassing. Thanks Donn - Corrected the post now.

Sometimes you miss out on the easiest sanity-checks :-)

Their weight is impressive, I didn't expect that much!

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