Google and Facebook have laid thousands of miles of submarine cables to carry the Internet around the world. Here is how they do it.

Specialized vessels like this are used to lay thousands of miles of internet cables along the seabed. Alcatel submarine networks

  • Google and Facebook are invested in dozens of submarine internet cable projects around the world.

  • The laying of these cables requires months of preparation and specialized ships take them to sea.

  • Once laid, the cables can carry huge amounts of internet data around the world.

  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

Google and Facebook have both laid thousands of miles of cables along the seabed, stretching between continents, to carry the Internet around the world.

A submarine cable laying vessel passes icebergs.

A submarine cable laying vessel passes icebergs during a cable laying project between Canada, Greenland and Iceland. Alcatel submarine networks

Often times, the two tech giants invest in cable projects with a consortium of other companies, although Google has five private cable projects underway.

Google's Curie submarine cable landing buoy.

Google’s Curie submarine cable landing buoy. Google Cloud

In total, Google is invested in 19 cable projects around the world.

Facebook is invested in two currently active cables. It is involved in five other cable projects currently under construction, a spokesperson said.

Isle of Br & # xe9; hat cable laying vessel off the coast of Australia.

Cable ship Ile de Bréhat off Australia. Alcatel submarine networks

Here’s how companies lay cables on the ocean floor.

Google Curie submarine cable

The new Grace Hopper cable will join existing Google cables like Curie, shown here. Google

First, companies must plan the route they want the cable to take.

Google Strategic Negotiator for Global Infrastructure Jayne Stowell.

Jayne Stowell. Google Cloud

Jayne Stowell, strategic negotiator for global infrastructure at Google, told Insider that route planning can take up to a year.

A Facebook spokesperson told Insider it is conducting a bathymetric and geophysical survey along its planned route, which allows it to plan down to the meter.

Laying vessels Ile d'Aiz (foreground) and Ile de Batz (background).

Laying vessels Ile d’Aiz (foreground) and Ile de Batz (background). Alcatel submarine networks

It does this by sending ships equipped with sonar to map the seabed and look for hazards such as strong currents, underwater landslides, bombs or unexploded mines.

The cable itself is about the thickness of a garden hose, Stowell said.

An underwater internet cable is loaded on a laying vessel.

An underwater internet cable is loaded on a laying vessel. Alcatel submarine networks

The cables are wrapped in a copper box for electrical conduction.

Submarine cables being manufactured.

Submarine cables being manufactured. Alcatel submarine networks

“A plastic and steel jacket is then added to waterproof the cable and help it withstand potentially adverse ocean conditions such as strong currents, earthquakes or interference from trawlers,” Stowell said.

For Facebook’s 2Africa cable, it uses aluminum rather than copper, which it says will lower manufacturing costs and allow longer cables.

A submarine cable before the addition of its sheath.

A submarine cable before the addition of its sheathing. Alcaltel submarine networks

2Africa is being laid across the continent and is 37,000 kilometers long, barely shorter than the circumference of the Earth.

Once the route has been mapped out and the cable has been completed, it is time to load the cable onto a specialized laying vessel.

Crew members roll up Google's Curie submarine cable in tanks inside the laying vessel.

Crew members winding the Google Curie submarine cable in tanks inside the laying vessel. Google Cloud

Google’s Stowell said the company uses a fleet of 50 to 55 specialist laying vessels, with a capacity of up to 100 crew. Simply loading the cable onto the ship can take four weeks, she said.

Facebook said its ships typically need a crew of 30 to 50 people.

A specialized submarine laying vessel.

A specialized submarine laying vessel. Alcatel submarine networks

The ship leaves the port, rolling the cable behind it. Once in deeper water, he deploys an underwater plow to dig a trench along the seabed in which he lays the cable.

Machines on a submarine Internet cable ship.

Machines on a submarine Internet cable ship. Alcatel submarine networks

“The natural movement of the wave action will then cover the cable once the vessel moves forward,” Stowell said.

“An ocean plow doesn’t look too much like a plow a farmer could use in a field, except that it’s much taller – roughly the height of a two-story building,” Stowell said.

An underwater laying ship in the Greenland Sea.

An underwater laying ship in the Greenland Sea. Alcatel submarine networks

The plow is only used at depths of 1,000 to 1,500 meters (3,281 to 4,921 feet), Stowell added.

“This is where it is necessary to protect the cable from potential damage caused by other users of the seabed – most often bottom trawlers or ship anchors that are thrown into the sea during a storm.” , said Stowell.

A trawler fishing net is removed from the ocean.

Submarine cables need to be buried to protect them from trawlers like this one. Sylvain Lefèvre / Getty Images

A cable is quite safe on the high seas and does not need to be buried or shielded, she added.

For longer cables, Stowell said Google is also installing a device called an amplifier every 100 meters (328 feet) to boost the signal and keep the data moving.

An amplifier is loaded on a laying vessel.

An amplifier is loaded on a laying vessel. Google Cloud

“Although fiber optic cables are made of the purest glass, over long distances the intensity of a beam of light begins to weaken,” she said.

Submarine cable amplifiers.

Submarine cable amplifiers after manufacture. Alcatel submarine networks

Amplifiers help restore light to its original intensity.

When the egg-laying vessel reaches its final destination, it is unable to approach shore.

Engineers land Google's Grace Hopper cable at Bude beach, UK.

Engineers land Google’s Grace Hopper cable at Bude Beach, UK. Google Cloud

Buoys are used to float the cable to the surface and it is guided into position by divers, jet skis and smaller boats.

A line of buoys is used to float an underwater internet cable when it lands on shore.

A line of buoys floats an underwater internet cable when it lands on shore. Alcatel submarine networks

Finally, the cable is pulled across the beach to a ready-made trench, where it is connected to a beach manhole, a buried container where the submarine cable is connected to a land cable – which in turn connects to a cable station.

Machine helps land Google's Grace Hopper cable on the UK coast.

Machine helps land Google’s Grace Hopper cable on the UK coast. Google Cloud

These cables are capable of channeling an enormous amount of data approximately every second.

Small boats guide Google's Grace Hopper to shore from its laying ship in Bilbao, Spain.

Small boats guide Google’s Grace Hopper to shore from its laying ship in Bilbao, Spain. Google Cloud

Stowell said Google’s Grace Hopper cable – which landed in the UK earlier this week – is set to channel 340 terabytes of data per second, which would mean 17.5 million people could stream 4K video in same time.

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