Connecting people: A world map of undersea cables

Despite satellite technology, global communication heavily relies on undersea cables to keep people connected. “A submarine communications cable is a cable laid on the sea bed between land-based stations to carry telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean.” (Wikipedia) Undersea cables are the backbone of the internet, so that being connected determines a region’s ability to participate in global communication flows.
The following cartogram shows data from Greg’s Cable Map reprojected onto an equal population projection, giving a perspective of how people rather than land areas are connected to the global communications infrastructure. Landing points where the cables connect to land are marked as red dots in the map, while the background also shows very faded shipping lanes (over sea) as well as the gridded cartogram projection (over land):

Cartogram of undersea cables shown on an equal-population projection
(click for larger version)

While many people take internet availability for granted, a UNEP/WCMC report states that “there is a common misconception that nowadays most international communications are routed via satellites, when in fact well over 95 per cent of this traffic is actually routed via submarine fibre-optic cables. Data and voice transfer via these cables is not only cheaper, but also much quicker than via satellite.
The first submarine cable – a copper-based telegraph cable – was laid across the Channel between the United Kingdom and France in 1850. Today, more than a million kilometres of state-of-the-art submarine fibre-optic cables span the oceans, connecting continents, islands and countries around the world. Arguably, the international submarine cable network provides one of the most important infrastructural foundations for the development of whole societies and nations within a truly global economy.”

While you are reading this text, it will have most likely travelled quite some distance through these cables from it’s origin to your screen. Never mind aeroplanes, seafloor cables are one of the most important pieces of infrastructure for the post-modern world of connectivity. Happy holidays!

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