Internet down. Whole world stops.

Internet down. Whole world stops.
  • Nine cables give access to the world
  • We can’t go over it…
  • 5G will save us — won’t it?

The internet has given us many wonderful things.

The ability to make video calls to loved ones overseas.

Shopping online in Europe.

Streaming music and movies from the US.

The ability to transmit humankind’s entire wealth of knowledge around the world in seconds…

And what if I told you that all of this could stop in one simple snip?

Nine cables give access to the world

Today we are talking cables.

Boring, two-centimetre-thick subsea cables.

The 1.2 million kilometres of cables on the ocean floor.

The exact ones that keep Australia connected to the digital economy.

You know, the sort of stuff no one ever thinks about.

Just like the electrical cabling in the walls. You don’t think about that on a daily basis.

You probably only think about it when the power goes out.

Otherwise, we just expect that it is always ‘on’.

Much like Australia’s internet connection.

Most Aussies simply assume that our internet connection largely comes from satellites.

After all, isn’t that what upgrading our phone networks is all about — better satellite connectivity wherever you are in Australia? This has meant moving from the 3G network, to the 4G…and now the coming 5G.

Yet, few Aussies realise that 99% of our internet traffic comes from subsea cables.

While you are using satellite data on your phone…the data had to travel through the subsea cables to reach the mobile phone networks.

That means less than 1% of our Australian internet is brought to you by satellites.

In other words, we’re highly reliant on those subsea cables.

And believe it or not, these subsea cables are Australia’s weakest link.

Let me show you why…

Global subsea cable map

Source: Submarine Cable Map

That 1.2 million kilometres of cables I mentioned before? Well, here’s a map of roughly where they are in the world.

And that million or so clicks of cabling is comprised of just 378 subsea cables.

That’s it.

Less than 400 cables physically tie the world together.

More importantly, have a close look at Australia.

Now compare it to the rest of the world.

There’s an awful lot of cables joining the US to Europe.

Almost two thirds of that again between the US and Asia.

Then, there’s us.

Lonely old Australia.

Squashed down the bottom, somewhere in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific…with our nine subsea cables that connect us to the rest of the world.

Yes. Nine.

In other words, out of all the subsea cables in the world, only 2.3% land directly on our shores.

Let me put that into perspective for you.

Brazil has more connections to the world then we do.

This connection — or lack thereof — puts Australia in a precarious position.

Our economy is entirely reliant on those subsea cable links.

We can’t go over it…

One snip is pretty much all it would take to disrupt our connection to the rest of the world.

Don’t get me wrong. Subsea cables are damaged all the time — at a rate of about once a week.

So frequent is the damage that before any cable is laid, international agreements are put in place and suppliers are chosen to repair the cable quickly.

Because of the frequency of damage, most countries simply reroute their data supply to another cable while repairs are being made.

For the residents of pretty much every other country in the world, they also have access to overland cables to keep that digital connection going.

Aussies, on the other hand, do not.

Overland cables here simply keep Australia connected to…Australia.

Damage to any one of our nine subsea cables could see us lose our digital link to the rest of the world.

5G will save us — won’t it?

In spite of the hype surrounding the coming 5G network, it simply doesn’t have the ability to pick up when the subsea cables drop out.

Undersea cables can carry a whole terabyte per second. Satellites are only able to move 1,000 megabytes per second…not even a full gig of data.

Furthermore, the transfer of satellite data has lags and bit loss. Subsea fibre optic cabling doesn’t — thanks to the ‘boosters’ placed at strategic points along subsea cables.

Given that our satellites carry less than 1% of all of Australia’s internet, they simply don’t have the ability to replace all of the data capacity that our subsea cables do.

More to the point, significant damage to these underwater digital links isn’t simply about losing the ability to watch cat videos and buy shoes from the US.

No. It’s much more serious than that.

The loss of our subsea cables would be catastrophic to the Aussie economy.

Think about it.

Without subsea cabling, there goes social media and voice calls.

Most businesses use cloud storage for their data. And subsea cables give us access to international markets.

Let me put it another way.

Without a digital link to the rest of the world, we have no way to transfer information between Australia and the rest of the world.

The point to all of this?

This isn’t just a lesson in subsea cables.

Oh no.

Today is a lesson in how we get our information.

Tomorrow, I’ll reveal the greatest threat to Australia’s economic prosperity…and highlight just how crucial those nine subsea cables are.

Because if the internet goes down in Australia, our whole world really will stop.

Until next time,

Shae Russell Signature

Shae Russell,
Editor, The Daily Reckoning Australia