Google is reinforcing its fragile undersea internet cables with similar material to that used in bulletproof vests to protect against frequent and unexplainable shark attacks
Google has had to reinforce its fragile undersea internet cables with a material similar to that used in bulletproof vests in order to protect against shark attacks.
The company announced at its Google Cloud Roadshow event last week that it was going back to some of the 100,000 miles of private fibre optic cable that it owns around the world and reinforcing it with the protective material. At least part of the reason is to minimise the damage that results from frequent and unexplainable shark attacks, said product manager Dan Belcher.
Fibre optic cables use lasers to send data across the ocean, allowing transfer rates up to 100 times higher than traditional copper cables. But they are made of fragile glass strands so need to be protected from any knocks or sharp movements. At the event Google said that it was now using a “Kevlar-like material” in order to do this.
For unknown reasons sharks seem drawn to the data cables that rest on the ocean floor. One attack has even been caught on camera, as you can see in the video clip below.
The issue dates back to at least 1985, when shark teeth were found buried deep in the coating of an experimental fiber optic line off the Canary Islands.
The New York Times reported in 1987 that sharks had shown an “inexplicable taste” for the then-new technology, causing at least four failures on the cables linking the US, Europe and Japan.
“The attacks have caused some delays in laying cable, and a single bite on a deep-sea line, which is about the size of a garden hose, can cost $250,000 or more to fix. There is a benefit, however. In studying ways to limit damage from the attacks, the telephone companies are providing marine scientists with valuable new data on sharks and specimens of previously unknown species,” reported the paper.
The reason for sharks biting cables is unknown. In the 1987 story a spokesman for AT&T describes catching sharks and seeing if they would eat segments of cable: ”They got this one big shark on deck and tried to force-feed him samples of cable to see how he’d react. He was not happy about having someone try to shove it down his mouth.”
This has led some to suggest that it is actually the data that they are attracted to, or at least the electromagnetic signals it gives off, which could appear similar to those given off by fish and other creatures which sharks feed on. Sharks have been shown to detect electromagnetic signals given off by prey.
Earlier this week it was announced that Google was working with Asian telecoms companies to build and operate a new trans-Pacific cable network connecting the United States to Japan.
The consortium of companies – which also includes China Mobile International, China Telecom Global, Global Transit, KDDI and SingTel – will invest approximately $300 million (£179m) in the system, known as ‘Faster’. The aim is to address the intense traffic demands for broadband, mobile, applications, content and enterprise data exchange on the trans-Pacific route.
It will have an initial capacity of 60 terabits per second and will connect Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Oregon and Seattle to Chikura and Shima in Japan.