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Time to reassess the importance of submarine cable?

Posted By TelecomTV One , 30 August 2006 | 0 Comments | (0)
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We are all very used to the concept of submarine telephony cables, after all the idea has been around for a couple of hundred years and has been (more or less) a practical reality since 1850 when the very first subsea link was instituted between Dover in England and Calais, France.~ ~ The 25 nautical mile telegraphy cable was laid by a Royal Navy vessel rejoicing in the unlikely name of HMS Widgeon. The gutta percha-covered copper cable was weighed down every few feet with 16 pound lumps of lead designed to keep it firmly on the bottom of the English Channel, but, despite these precautions, the link was cut by French fisherman after it had been in operation for just three days. ~ ~ This history of cable telegraphy and telephony systems is littered with similar failures and breakdowns. The first trans-Atlantic cable was laid in 1858 but it operated only for a month before ceasing to function. Subsequent further attempts were made in 1865 and 1866 and these were more successful and longer lived. However, although a trans-Atlantic telephony cable was often mooted in late-Victorian and through Edwardian times, and while some early attempts to lay one were made in the 1920s, it required the technological breakthroughs achieved during the Second World War finally to make the dream a reality.~ ~ In the 20s, 30 and 40s such civilian trans-Altlantic telephony traffic as existed was catered for over radio links. Some 2,000 calls a year were handled and they cost the enormous sum of £9 per minute, a huge amount at the time and the equivalent to three of four weeks wages for a working man.~ ~ Transatlantic Number 1 (TAT1) was the first fully functional trans-Atlantic telephony cable. Running between Gallanach Bay, near Oban, Scotland and Clarenville, Newfoundland the 36 channel cable was not inaugurated until September 1956.

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~ ~ By now I guess you may well be asking, “Why the history lesson?” Well, although we are now all blasé about such subsea networks, in an era of terrorist threats and increased security it behoves us to think about these links, raise awareness about them and ensure that they are properly guarded.~ ~ That’s why Hibernia Atlantic, one of only two US-owned trans-Atlantic cable companies, is calling for greater awareness of and increased governmental understanding of the requirements of submarine cables linking North America with Europe.~ ~ Hibernia says that not only is cable’s importance as a vital global economic infrastructure consistently underappreciated, but also that national governments do not provide the protection necessary in the post-9/11 world.~ ~ Simply stated, Hibernia Atlantic says that a two-stranded strategy should be put in place to ensure the continuity of submarine cables. The first is through government intervention and assistance. The company suggest this should take the form of the designation of protection zones, the restriction of fishing activities and an increase in military aerial surveillance.~ ~ The second strategic strand is to educate network purchasers in laying out a plan for sufficient geographic diversity.~ ~ Bjarni Thoevardarson, the CEO of Hibernia Atlantic a says, “Business and community life are now, more than ever, highly reliant on secure communications. The significance of secure links has increased dramatically in the past few years. Current protections schemes are still vague to most, even though global economic infrastructures rest within the cable.”~ ~ Derek Bullock, the Director of Operations and Submarine Activity for Hibernia Atlanti adds, “Currently there are only seven modern fibre optic submarine cables in use in the Atlantic Ocean. And all but two of these cables are owned by foreign organisations and a majority of these companies are sharing common backhaul. We need to consider the security of these lines as the highest priority.”~ ~ Critics say such comments betray the paranoia so evident in some aspects of US business after the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and that some American companies need to make rather more stringent reality checks rather more often. On the other hand, other analysts say Hibernia Atlantic is talking common sense and is instigating a very necessary debate and point out that some countries have already recognised the extreme importance of the communications infrastructure, and have already proposed calls for action and government protection. ~ ~ For example, the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) has just announced a new protection regime proposal, restricting and prohibiting certain maritime activities up to 40 nautical miles off the beaches of Sydney where some of Australia’s most important submarine cables come ashore.~

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