The future of the Internet is underwater
Known as the "world's information highways," subsea cables are vital to global connectivity, carrying an estimated 99% of international traffic, including voice, video, data and online gaming. As the volume of Internet traffic skyrockets, some of the world's largest businesses and tech companies are investing in new subsea cable routes to meet the demand for more bandwidth and faster connectivity.
Subsea cables deliver high-speed, low-latency bandwidth capacity critical to businesses from content and media platforms to network and cloud ecosystems. They enable companies to collaborate with employees, partners and customers across oceans and between continents in near-real time. For industries like online gaming, streaming video or financial services – where milliseconds can mean the difference of millions of dollars – this anywhere, anytime high-performance connectivity is imperative.
Managing much of this traffic has historically been the responsibility of telcos, but the major cloud providers and digital infrastructure companies are now seizing on the business opportunity to connect the world, particularly in emerging markets.
Connecting new markets
Today, more than 530 subsea cables line the ocean floor. That's up from about 426 just last year. This number is continually increasing as big tech companies like Meta, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix lay new lines to reach new customers.
These cable routes are connecting the world like never before. This year, a 7,000-kilometer cable connected Nigeria – home to Africa's largest economy – to Portugal, giving organizations in and out of Africa access to one of the world's fastest-growing markets.
LATAM has also seen significant subsea cable investment in recent years and is now one of the world's fastest-growing regions for the content and digital media sector when it comes to projected installed interconnection bandwidth capacity. In 2019, Google opened the Curie cable system connecting Chile to California, delivering 72 Tbit/s of much-needed bandwidth to South America. In 2021, the Malbec cable connected Brazil and Argentina and doubled the latter nation's Internet bandwidth capacity. That same year, EllaLink, the first high-capacity subsea cable system between Europe and Latin America, became fully operational, providing a 50% increase in network performance between data centers in Brazil, Portugal and Spain when compared to routes that transit through North America.
The downstream economic benefit
This is bigger than just faster Internet speed – it has a material impact on businesses and communities.
Slated to be operational in the next one to two years, 2Africa, the world's longest fiber optic cable spanning 45,000 kilometers and connecting Africa to Asia and Europe, will spur the growth of 4G, 5G and fixed broadband access for hundreds of millions of people. The cable is projected to catalyze an economic impact of $26.2 billion to $36.9 billion over that time frame.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Asia Pacific Gateway and JUPITER cables, which link the U.S. with Japan and the Philippines, are expected to add approximately $422 billion in gross domestic product and support 3.7 million jobs between 2021 and 2025.
Subsea cables offer a new strategic advantage
While about 4.9 billion people have Internet access, roughly 2.9 billion people – or one-third of the world's population – do not, according to the UN's International Telecommunication Union.
Until the recent subsea boom over the last couple of years, these markets have received little infrastructure investment from governments and local telcos with limited resources. Cloud providers and digital infrastructure companies looking to fill this need can establish their footholds in these regions and reach new customers.
For many of these companies, their first step on this pathway to expansion will be into the ocean.
– Jim Poole, Vice President of Business Development, Equinix