Underwater Cable: The Wave of the Future

Allied's Wire NewsReelUsing underwater submarine cable for the transmission of electricity and high speed telecommunications data is part of a growing movement of connecting cities and countries.


You see the worker from the electric company checking your meter, you see the cell phone towers driving down the highway, and you see the Ethernet cables in your home office but did you know that some of that power is actually transmitted underwater?

The first transoceanic cable came into full operation in 1866 when a link between Ireland and Newfoundland that allowed transmission of seven words per minute via telegraph was discovered. As technology progressed from Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone to the first fiber-optic submarine cable in 1979 submarine cables have come a long way, according to a report published by The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the International Cable Protection Committee Ltd (ICPC).  UNEP is part of the world’s foremost intergovernmental environmental organization and ICPC is a non-profit organization that facilitates the exchange of technical, legal, and environmental information concerning submarine cable installation, maintenance, and protection.

As recently as ten years ago, however, the submarine cable industry was experiencing a bit of a decline.  In mid-2000 however, rising energy prices and concerns about climate change rekindled an interest in using submarine cables.   Industry experts predict that even more growth is on the way.  According to a report by Navigant Research, a US research firm that tracks the energy industry, global sales of high-voltage submarine cable is set to triple from $1.9 billion in 2014 to over $5.3 billion in 2023.

Leading the pack in underwater cable systems

Internet Giant Google is no exception when it comes to this growth and submarine cable.  They announced last month that they signed commercial agreements with a consortium of six global companies to build and operate a new Trans-pacific cable system called FASTER.  The underwater cableFASTER cable system will connect the United States more closely with Japan and is reportedly going to cost approximately $300 Million, according to a press release from Google.

“FASTER is one of a few hundred submarine telecommunications cables connecting various parts of the world. These cables collectively form an important infrastructure that helps run global Internet and communications,” said Mr. Woohyong Choi, the chairman of the FASTER executive committee.

“The consortium partners are glad to work together to add a new cable to our global infrastructure. The FASTER cable system has the largest design capacity ever built on the Trans-Pacific route, which is one of the longest routes in the world. The agreement will benefit all users of the global Internet, “Choi said.

Staying protected despite the elements

Subsea cables have come a long way in their construction and ability to do their job.  According to the UNEP and ICPC report, submarine telegraph cables from the early 1900’s were constructed with an inner copper conductor for transmitting messages, an insulating layer of tree resin called gutta percha and one or more outer layers of iron wire for strengthening and protecting the whole cable.  Coaxial cable or analogue cables were the rage in the 1950’s with polyethylene insulation and a copper conductor.  Today cables have multiple glass fibers that have the capacity to transmit over 1 million telephone calls. Despite that power, modern cables are much smaller with deep ocean types only about the size of a garden hose.  Most recently sharks went after some of Google’s underwater cables prompting the internet giant to reinforce them with a Kevlar like material.

More growth is expected

James McCray, senior researcher for Navigant Research believes that underwater cable system projects will continue well into the future but won’t necessarily replace above ground use.  “There will be a large market for submarine cables.  The connections between Iceland, with huge geothermal generation resources and various parts of Northern Europe are huge, and connections across the Mediterranean Sea to Northern Africa and Middle East might be huge opportunities,” McCray said.

These opportunities will continue to be driven by population growth, increased reliance on offshore renewables, and the interconnection of energy markets and regional systems, McCray predicted.

But don’t expect a total transformation.

“I think that some portion of the market will continue to be submarine cables, but there is such a high proportion of the transmission and distribution grid that is land-locked and above ground, that submarine cables will continue to be a regional and coastal phenomenon.

For more on submarine cable systems check out this map of 300 active submarine cable systems that interconnect the world. http://submarine-cable-map-2014.telegeography.com/

About awcwire
Allied Wire & Cable is a value-added manufacturer and distributor of electrical wire and cable, tubing, and more. We are a family owned and operated company, serving a wide range of industries, including the military, automotive, aerospace, and telecommunications markets. Allied is headquartered in Collegeville, PA. Additional locations can be found across the US, in Merrimack, NH, Tampa, FL, Pewaukee, WI, and Las Vegas, NV. For more information on Allied, visit our main website at www.awcwire.com.

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