In less than 10 years, 4 big techs have taken control of the submarine fiber optic cables through which 95 percent of Internet traffic passes. Facebook (Meta), Google, Amazon and Microsoft have progressively extended their hands on this strategic network that connects countries and data centers around the world. As a Wall Street Journal investigation shows, until recently, the use and ownership of fiber optic cables was largely owned by governments and telecommunications companies. From 2012 to today, reality has changed profoundly.
Boom of submarine cables
Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are the companies that more than others have invested resources in the construction of new submarine Internet cables in recent years. An increasingly fundamental infrastructure for communications on a global level that extends along a path of over 1 million and 300 thousand kilometers into the depths of the oceans. Overall, at the end of 2021, there were 436 submarine cables in operation worldwide, according to TeleGeography. This number, however, varies continuously due to the replacement of obsolete lines and the installation of new, more modern and updated networks.
A multi-faceted audience is exploiting and accessing the enormous capacity of this ever-expanding fiber optic network: telephone operators, multinationals, research institutes and state agencies. In any case, any person who connects to the Internet, regardless of the device they use, has the possibility to use the network of submarine cables.
However, it is above all the large technological companies (Ott: over the top) that have a pre-eminent interest in their use. The 4 tech giants have exponentially increased the use of submarine fiber optic cables to absorb 66 percent of total capacity (2020). The transition to the big data economy and online streaming and cloud services explains the new approach and the central role assumed by the web giants for whose commercial needs a growing demand for bandwidth is required.
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The activities of the tech giants
The contribution of the technology giants to the development of submarine cables has become decisive and impressive so as to be able to increase the global data transmission capacity by 41 percent in 2020 alone.
Google, which recently announced the Firmina project to link the US to South America, is the company that has invested the most resources. Big G has come to control, directly and indirectly, thanks to the participation in consortia, 8.5 per cent of the submarine cable network, according to a research conducted by Itif.
Facebook, on the other hand, after having invested in the 2Africa system – the longest in the world, over 45 thousand kilometers for three continents – once completed, together with the Japanese group NEC has started the construction of the transatlantic cable with the highest capacity in the world capable of carrying 500 terabits per second to connect Europe and North America.
As for Microsoft, in collaboration with Facebook and Telxius (Telefonica), it has created Marea, an optical fiber infrastructure of over 6 thousand kilometers to connect Europe and the USA but also to improve communications with Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The cable laid in the Atlantic Ocean ensures a transmission capacity of 160 terabits per second, 16 million times faster than a home Internet connection. Amazon, for its part, participates in various projects such as Bay to Bay Express (by Nec), Hawaiki and Jupiter, a cable of more than 14 thousand kilometers with a capacity of 60 terabits per second built for the connections between Asia and the United States. But Jeff Bezos’ company has also signed an agreement that allows the right to use the Marea network for the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform.
In the next few years, the grip of the 4 tech collars, who in 2020 alone financed works by paying $ 90 billion, on the submarine cable market will be even greater, according to TeleGeography. And by 2024, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are expected to have a stake in at least 30 long-distance cables connecting all continents except Antarctica.
It cannot be denied that the growing intervention of technology giants has benefited the development and strengthening of a key infrastructure for global communications while also reducing inefficiencies and costs. But the risk is that their position will become even more dominant by blocking the way and crushing any kind of competition.