How to Thread a Fiber-Optic Cable Through the Arctic

By Amy Nordrum

The ice that has long covered the North American Arctic is melting away, creating an opportunity for companies to capitalize on these virgin waters. Among the shipping and oil mavens with an eye on the Northwest Passage is the company Arctic Fibre, which is trying to thread a 15,600-kilometer fiber-optic cable right through it. A year from now, slow ships loaded with reels of cable will deploy to three oceans and the farthest corners of North America to begin installing the cable, meter by meter. The ocean’s depths are often a murky mystery, however, and crews must rely on sonar and sophisticated maps of the seafloor to carefully unfurl the line and keep it from twisting into loops, snagging on abandoned anchors, or dropping into underwater crevasses.

The cable’s northern route, from Tokyo to London, will bisect the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans and skim the northern coast of Canada and Alaska. When the route is completed, a 24-terabit connection should zoom data from one end to the other in 154 milliseconds, which is 24 ms faster than today’s fastest connection between Tokyo and London.  …[Read more]