Google has adopted extreme measures to defend its undersea fibre optic cables from the depredations of the ocean’s greatest and most iconic predator – the shark.
During a recent Google Cloud Roadshow event staged in Boston, Google cloud team product manager Dan Belcher revealed that measures adopted to protect its trans-Pacific underwater cables include wrapping them in Kevlar-type material, which is strong enough to withstand the immense pressure generated by shark bites.
The expedient was deemed necessary by the company for two reasons – the delicacy and susceptibility to damage of the fibre optic cables, and the frequency of shark attacks upon this critical form of communications infrastructure.
While Google’s fibre optic cables possess the advantage of remarkable transmission speeds, capable of channelling as much as a gigabit of information per second, they also suffer from the distinct disadvantage of greater fragility compared to other communication mediums such as copper, since the fibres are made from a delicate glass.
While fibre optic cables are usually spared the depredations of natural predators when on dry land, in an underwater environment they have proven to be highly provocative to shark species, who bite them with alarming frequency.
This phenomena has been observed for decades, with the New York Times first reporting in 1987 that sharks had displayed an “inexplicable taste” for the fibre optic cables which had just been laid across the Atlantic Ocean to connect Europe and North America.
The problems caused by sharks are well documented, with the first deep-ocean fibre-optic cable failing on a total of four occasions due to shark attacks at depths as great as 1,900 metres.
According to a report commissioned by the the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Cable Protection Committee, the reason why underwater fibre optics make such alluring targets for sharks is the electric and magnetic fields which surrounds the length of the cable. High voltage power must be conveyed to the undersea repeater, generating a discernible electromagnetic field which sharks readily mistake for ailing prey.
The use of protective measures such as Kevlar-style wrapping materials could be crucial to the success of the next huge communications project in whose construction Google has invested – a high-speed cable connecting North America to East Asia which traverses the Pacific Ocean.