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Google Expands its Little-Known But All-Important Undersea Empire

April 4, 2018, 1:00 AM UTC

Google’s little-known but vast deep-sea empire is expanding.

The search giant said Tuesday that it has started installing a 6,000-mile undersea cable between Japan and Australia in an effort to increase network capacity for its growing cloud computing business.

Google’s new fiber-optic cable is the latest in a series it has installed over the past 10 years to provide Internet connectivity and improve its services in places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. Although there are already over 300 undersea cables worldwide that are owned by various companies, they can’t provide the networking power that Google requires—especially to grow its cloud business overseas, Google’s principal engineer of networking architecture Vijay Vusirikala explained.

Many older undersea cables connect major cities like New York City to London. But because several of Google’s data centers are in more out-of-the-way places —at least for cable infrastructure—like Oregon or the Southeast, the company must build its own cable network.

Google has previously said that its global network is connected by hundreds of thousands of fiber-optic cable.

Japanese technology giant NEC Corporation and Alcatel Submarine Networks are helping Google with the latest cable laying project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, Vusirikala said. He declined to comment about the cost.

Vusirikala said that cloud computing providers and other tech companies with vast data center infrastructure have increased the pace of laying undersea fiber-optic cables over the last three years.

Microsoft (MSFT) and Facebook (FB), for instance, recently installed a 4,000-mile cable across the Atlantic Ocean between Virginia and Spain. Like Google, these companies are rapidly building data centers worldwide and need undersea cables to connect it all.

For a typical undersea cable project, companies like Alcatel Submarine Networks send ships with roughly 20 people to lay the cables, Google global network infrastructure executive Michael Francois said. Crew members can spend three-to-five months at sea to do the work with the help of a giant conveyor belt that gradually unrolls the giant roll of cable onboard, he said.

The cable itself resembles an oversized, circular wire similar to a conventional telephone cable, except supersized.

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Google’s cable between Japan and Australia is made up of two segments. One extends from Japan to Guam and another stretches from Guam to Sydney. Considering the effort it takes to lay one of the cables, “it’s a big event when a cable does land or comes on to a shore,” Francois said.