Will Hyperscale Cloud Companies (e.g. Google) Control the Internet’s Backbone?

Rob Powell reports that Google’s submarine cable empire now hooks up another corner of the world. The company’s 10,000km Curie submarine cable has officially come ashore in Valparaiso, Chile.

The Curie cable system now connects Chile with southern California. it’s a four-fiber-pair system that will add big bandwidth along the western coast of the Americas to Google’s inventory.  Also part of the plans is a branching unit with potential connectivity to Panama at about the halfway point where they can potentially hook up to systems in the Caribbean.

Subcom’s CS Durable brought the cable ashore on the beach of Las Torpederas, about 100 km from Santiago. In Los Angeles the cable terminates at Equinix’s LA4 facility, while in Chile the company is using its own recently built data center in Quilicura, just outside of Santiago.

Google has a variety of other projects going on around the world as well, as the company continues to invest in its infrastructure.  Google’s projects tend to happen quickly, as they don’t need to spend time finding investors to back their plans.

Curie is one of three submarine cable network projects Google unveiled in January 2018. (Source: Google)

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Powell also wrote that SoftBank’s HAPSMobile is investing $125M in Google’s Loon as the two partner for a common platform, and Loon gains an option to invest a similar sum in HAPSMobile later on.

Both companies envision automatic, unmanned, solar-powered devices in the sky above the range of commercial aircraft but not way up in orbit. From there they can reach places that fiber and towers don’t or can’t. HAPSMobile uses drones, and Loon uses balloons. The idea is to develop a ‘common gateway or ground station’ and the necessary automation to support both technologies.

It’s a natural partnership in some ways, and the two are putting real money behind it. But despite the high profile we haven’t really seen mobile operators chomping at the bit, since after all it’s more fun to cherry pick those tower-covered urban centers for 5G first and there’s plenty of work to do. And when they do get around to it, there’s the multiple near-earth-orbit satellite projects going on to compete with.

But the benefit both HAPSMobile and Loon have to their model is that they can, you know, reach it without rockets.

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Venture Beat Assessment of what it all means:

Google’s increasing investment in submarine cables fits into a broader trend of major technology companies investing in the infrastructure their services rely on.

Besides all the datacenters AmazonMicrosoft, and Google are investing in as part of their respective cloud services, we’ve seen Google plow cash into countless side projects, such as broadband infrastrucure in Africa and public Wi-Fi hotspots across Asia.

Elsewhere, Facebook — while not in the cloud services business itself — requires omnipresent internet connectivity to ensure access for its billions of users. The social network behemoth is also investing in numerous satellite internet projectsand had worked on an autonomous solar-powered drone project that was later canned. Earlier this year, Facebook revealed it was working with Viasat to deploy high-speed satellite-powered internet in rural areas of Mexico.

While satellites will likely play a pivotal role in powering internet in the future — particularly in hard-to-reach places — physical cables laid across ocean floors are capable of far more capacity and lower latency. This is vital for Facebook, as it continues to embrace live video and virtual reality. In addition to its subsea investments with Google, Facebook has also partnered with Microsoft for a 4,000-mile transatlantic internet cable, with Amazon and SoftBank for a 14,000 km transpacific cable connecting Asia with North America, and on myriad othercable investments around the world.

Needless to say, Google’s services — ranging from cloud computing and video-streaming to email and countless enterprise offerings — also depend on reliable infrastructure, for which subsea cables are key.

Curie’s completion this week represents not only a landmark moment for Google, but for the internet as a whole. There are currently more than 400 undersea cables in service around the world, constituting 1.1 million kilometers (700,000 miles). Google is now directly invested in around 100,000 kilometers of these cables (62,000 miles), which equates to nearly 10% of all subsea cables globally.

The full implications of “big tech” owning the internet’s backbone have yet to be realized, but as evidenced by their investments over the past few years, these companies’ grasp will only tighten going forward.

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