150 years of transatlantic cables, the future travels under the oceans

In 1866 the first submarine cable able to connect the two shores of the Atlantic Ocean entered into service. It was the start of a telecommunications revolution that made possible the hyper-connected world that we know today. 

The origins of the revolution

Today the world of telecommunications would be inconceivable without the support of the international network of submarine cables. Until about 150 years ago, these cables didn’t exist. The first tentative yet momentous attempt at kick-starting this revolution was made in 1850, when a brief infrastructure was placed under the Channel Tunnel, between France and the United Kingdom. It was a flop but also paved the way for what would later give revolutionary results.

The transatlantic challenge was tackled just fifteen years after. In 1866, the Atlantic Telegraph Company put into service the first cable running from the United Kingdom to North America, crossing the entire Atlantic Ocean. In this case again, success was not absolute, but the milestone had been put in place.

Today’s network of submarine cables

In the following decades, the construction of submarine cables has literally exploded, with further acceleration in the last thirty years. You just have to look at the Telegeography site which lists all of the 350 or more cables in service, or to the computer graphics proposed by Quartz to realise this. Today these infrastructures are the architrave of the telecommunications world and are becoming increasingly more efficient, secure and reliable. Obviously, they are very costly instruments, although less so than satellites (compared to which they are also very fast), and although fragile, repair capabilities have nevertheless improved greatly over time. 

Today the main dangers for submarine cables come from sharks or acts of piracy. On the other hand, their “technological” centrality, in a world that lives on connections, makes them the primary target for those who want to place the entire international communications system in crisis. This is why the tendency today is to create perfectly redundant networks, able to avert any potential incidents.