Report: What is the Internet

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  Global Data Flows

Fiber-optic cables, coaxial cables, copper wires, electric power lines, microwaves, satellite communication, mobile telephony, computer networks: Various telecommunication networks following a variety of standards with bewildering abbreviations - DSL, WAP, GSM, UMTS, Ipv4 etc. - and carrying endless flows of capital and information are the blood veins of modern societies.

In the space of flows constituted by today's global data networks the space of places is transcended. Visualizations of these global data flows show arches bridging seas and continents, thereby linking the world's centres of research and development, economics and politics. In the global "Network Society" (Manuel Castells) the traditional centres of power and domination are not discarded, in the opposite, they are strengthened and reinforced by the use of information and communication technologies. Political, economical and symbolical power becomes increasingly linked to the use of modern information and communication technologies. The most sensitive and advanced centres of information and communication technologies are the stock markets. Excluded from the network constituted by modern information and communication technologies, large parts of Africa, Asia and South America, but also the poor of industrialized countries, are ranking increasingly marginal to the world economy.

Cities are centres of communications, trade and power. The higher the percentage of urban population, the more it is likely that the telecommunications infrastructure is generally good to excellent. This goes hand in hand with lower telecommunications costs. Those parts of the world with the poorest infrastructure are also the world's poorhouse. In Bangladesh for most parts of the population a personal computer is as expensive as a limousine in European one-month's salary in Europe, they have to pay eight annual salaries. Therefore telecommunications infrastructure is concentrated on the highly industrialized world: Most telephone mainlines, mobile telephones, computers, Internet accounts and Internet hosts (computers connected to the global data networks) can be found here. The same applies to media: the daily circulation of newspapers and the use of TV sets and radios. - Telecommunication and media services affordable to most parts of the population are mostly restricted to industrialized countries.

This situation will not change in the foreseeable future: Most expenditure for telecommunications infrastructure will be restricted to the richest countries in the world. In 1998, the world's richest countries consumed 75% of all cables and wires.

browse Report:
What is the Internet
    What is the Internet?
-3   Who owns the Internet and who is in charge?
-2   Internet, Intranets, Extranets, and Virtual Private Networks
-1   In Search of Reliable Internet Measurement Data
0   Global Data Flows
Fiber-optic cable networks
Fiber-optic cable networks may become the dominant method for high-speed Internet connections. Since the first fiber-optic cable was laid across the Atlantic in 1988, the demand for faster Internet connections is growing, fuelled by the growing network traffic, partly due to increasing implementation of corporate networks spanning the globe and to the use of graphics-heavy contents on the World Wide Web.

Fiber-optic cables have not much more in common with copper wires than the capacity to transmit information. As copper wires, they can be terrestrial and submarine connections, but they allow much higher transmission rates. Copper wires allow 32 telephone calls at the same time, but fiber-optic cable can carry 40,000 calls at the same time. A capacity, Alexander Graham Bell might have not envisioned when he transmitted the first words - "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you" - over a copper wire.

Copper wires will not come out of use in the foreseeable future because of technologies as DSL that speed up access drastically. But with the technology to transmit signals at more than one wavelength on fiber-optic cables, there bandwidth is increasing, too.

For technical information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica on telecommunication cables, click here. For technical information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica focusing on fiber-optic cables, click here.

An entertaining report of the laying of the FLAG submarine cable, up to now the longest fiber-optic cable on earth, including detailed background information on the cable industry and its history, Neal Stephenson has written for Wired: Mother Earth Mother Board. Click here for reading.

Susan Dumett has written a short history of undersea cables for Pretext magazine, Evolution of a Wired World. Click here for reading.

A timeline history of submarine cables and a detailed list of seemingly all submarine cables of the world, operational, planned and out of service, can be found on the Web site of the International Cable Protection Committee.

For maps of fiber-optic cable networks see the website of Kessler Marketing Intelligence, Inc.