Microsoft Corporation Announces Completion Of Highest-Capacity Undersea Cable

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Today Microsoft, Facebook and Telefonica announced the completion of their trans-Atlantic undersea cable, which boasts a data capacity of up to 160 terabits per second. The construction work on the project, dubbed Marea (Spanish for “tide”), started in August 2016, and it is expected to become operational in early 2018.

Microsoft first announced the project in May 2016 in collaboration with Facebook and Spanish telecommunication giants Telefónica. It is the first undersea cable connecting Spain and the U.S. state of Virginia. According to Microsoft, Hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast of the U.S. in October 2012, highlighted the importance of global networks. The network disruption caused by the hurricane served as an inspiration for the creation of Marea.

“It was a major disruption,” says Frank Rey, director of global network strategy for Microsoft’s Cloud Infrastructure and Operations division. “The entire network between North America and Europe was isolated for a number of hours.”

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Telefonica subsidiary Telxius was responsible for laying the undersea cable, while the project was backed by Microsoft and Facebook. Telxius will also operate the cable after it goes live. The Marea undersea cable connects Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Bilbao in northern Spain, a stretch of 4,000 miles (6,600km) under the Atlantic Ocean.

According to Microsoft, 160 terabits per second is 16 million times faster than standard home broadband, and it could stream 71 million HD videos at a time. Further, the company claims it to be the most technologically-advanced system and the highest-capacity cable in the world. It can also be upgraded to carry higher bandwidth going ahead.

The Marea undersea cable includes eight pairs of copper-wrapped fiber-optic threads, a waterproof coating and a hard-plastic protective layer. Though a major part of the Marea undersea cable, which is about 1.5 times the diameter of a garden hose, is placed on the seabed, parts closer to the shore have been buried to protect them from fishing and ship traffic.

For Facebook and Microsoft, the Marea subsea cable offers more capacity to their data services, and improved resilience (thanks to different landing points). Both Microsoft and Facebook have data centers in Virginia. A self-owned undersea cable means better and consistent services from Microsoft and Facebook to users, as now they will not have to share capacity with other telecom providers.

Highlighting the importance of Marea, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith, said, “There is no question that the demand for data flows across the Atlantic will continue to increase and Marea will provide a critical connection for the United States, Spain, and beyond.”

Globally, there are now over 420 undersea cables connecting computers and networks. According to research firm Telegeography, privately managed networks account for more than two-thirds of the digital data that crosses the Atlantic, notes Wired. Google is also involved in a 60-terabit/s faster cable, which covers 5,600 miles (9,000km) to connect Japan and the U.S. West coast.

At 10:21 a.m. Eastern, Microsoft shares were up 0.11% at $74.30. Year to date, the stock is up almost 20%, while in the last year, it is up almost 29%.