Virginia’s digital connection to the world

Just five years ago, all submarine cables along the eastern seaboard of the United States landed in New Jersey-New York or Florida. But in 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed New York’s coastline so badly that it prompted the development of a third East Coast landing site at Virginia Beach. The area is now home to three international cables and another is under development. These cables land in Virginia Beach and terminate in Henrico County at the Meta data center (parent company of Facebook) and the QTS data center next door.

Although many believe that global connectivity is made possible by satellites, there is actually a connected physical network on land and under the ocean.

Almost all international connectivity – voice, data and internet – goes through undersea cables. These cables, called submarine or submarine cables, are found along the seabed. Closer to shore, they are buried for additional protection.

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Cables are laid along the safest path underwater, avoiding fault zones, fishing grounds, anchoring areas and other hazards.

Some cables are short, like the 81-mile cable between Ireland and the UK, while others are incredibly long, like the 12,427-mile Asia America Gateway cable that crosses the Pacific Ocean.

Almost every country that has a coastline is connected to undersea cables, and anyone accessing the internet has the potential to use them.

Modern submarine cables use fiber optic technology. The lasers at one end fire at rapid speeds down thin glass fibers to the receivers at the other end.

Cables are usually as wide as a garden hose. The filaments that carry the light signals are extremely thin – about the diameter of a human hair. These fibers are then wrapped in a few layers of insulation and protection.

The cables traditionally belonged to telecommunications operators who formed a consortium. In the late 1990s, private cables began to be built. Both models still exist today.

Content providers such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are major investors in new cables and own or lease more than half of the world’s submarine bandwidth.

of all intercontinental data passes through submarine cables

Total number of active and planned submarine cables from 2022

Virginia Beach International Cables

Three submarine cables land in Virginia Beach and connect the United States to France, Spain, Puerto Rico and Brazil. These cables are among the most modern and efficient routes in the world. A fourth cable, SAEx1, is currently under development with construction expected to begin in 2025. When completed, it will be the first and only cable to directly connect the United States to South Africa.

Ready to serve: January 2021 Length: 3,977 miles Owner: Google

Ready to serve: May 2018 Length: 4,104 miles Owners: Meta, Microsoft, Telxius

Ready to serve: August 2018 Length: 6,835 miles Owner: telxius

Virginia Beach also has full permits in place for four other submarine cable conduits that will accommodate other cables, including the Confluence Cable from New York-New Jersey connecting to Virginia Beach; Myrtle Beach, SC; Jacksonville, Florida; and Miami.

Confluence-1 is the first submarine cable system dedicated to linking strategic global communications nodes on the East Coast of the United States. Infrastructure in the Sandbridge area of ​​Virginia Beach is scheduled to start in November.

Ready to serve: 2023 Length: 1,598 miles Owners: Confluence networks

Virginia’s undersea cables land in Virginia Beach and terminate in Henrico County, connecting to two massive data centers: Meta (Facebook’s parent company) and QTS.

Meta is investing over $1 billion to build a 2.5 million square foot data center campus in White Oak Technology Park. The first tranche was opened in 2020.

QTS, which acquired a former semiconductor factory in 2010 and turned it into a 1.5 million square foot mega data center, is expanding its operations. The facility – the fourth largest data center in the world – provides access to more than 20 network providers. QTS has acquired an additional 200 acres adjacent to its existing center, and construction is underway to double the size of its campus.

In the blink of an eye, data can be transmitted twice between Henrico and Spain.

While fiber optic data transmission is a relatively recent invention, undersea cables have been around for over 160 years. The first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1858, between Ireland and the province of Newfoundland in Canada.

Prior to this cable, the only way to transmit a message across the Atlantic was by boat, which took 10 days. Once the cable was laid, it only took a few minutes. Repeaters, which are used to amplify the signal along cables, were first introduced in 1956.

Satellites can be used to reach areas that are not yet cabled with fiber optics, but cables can carry much more data at a much lower cost than satellites. According to the FCC, satellites represent only 0.37% of all international capacity in the United States.

When you use your cell phone, the signal is transmitted wirelessly only from your phone to the nearest cell tower. From there, the data will be routed through terrestrial and submarine fiber optic cables.