Commentary: Wonders - Bandwidth Galore; July 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Morrison, Morrison; 2 Page(s)
These days long-haul digital signals travel confined within fi- ber-optic cables--witness the busy dry-land "backbones" of the Internet. Down in the seven seas more optical cables carry the major share of oceancrossing traffic, and they are multiplying fast. Amazingly, Victorian glories such as Lord Kelvin¿s Atlantic cable and Isambard Kingdom Brunel¿s paddlewheel leviathan, the Great Eastern, are still evoked by today¿s hot news. The third-generation, all-optical cable linking London and Tokyo--ready by late 1997--starts out westward from England, to enter the sea across the same beach in the craggy Cornish coastline where once ran the first cable to the antipodes, opened in 1872.
This billion-dollar cable is a little hyped as FLAG, a "fiber-optic link around the globe." It holds two twoway pairs of hair-thin optical fibers within its diameter of a centimeter, wherever it is not specially armored against careless trawlers and hungry sharks. FLAG has eight segments between landfalls. First it passes the Straits of Gibraltar to touch Spain, then eastward past Scylla and Charybdis to Egypt, down the Red Sea to Bombay to curve wide around the tip of India, then across the narrow isthmus in Thailand, achieving its terminal in Japan via Hong Kong and Korea. Strong branches go off to the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and China. Nor is FLAG alone. Optical cables encage the globe; eight of them now traverse the North Atlantic, another half a dozen the Pacific. By the year 2000, 100 countries will be hooked up to submerged fiber optics, the real superhighway to www.anywhere.