Gafam gets its hands on the submarine cables to better control the internet

When you read an e-mail, watch a video, post a picture on a social network, make an online purchase, consult a search engine, in short, as soon as you use the Internet, it is certain that the information passes or has passed through . given time by an undersea fiber optic cable. These lines, which abound on the bottom of the oceans and seas – the TeleGeography website, the sector’s bible, has 486 of them – transmit 99% of the world’s digital data. There is also a good chance that the cable is owned by Alphabet (Google, YouTube…), Meta (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp…) and to a lesser extent Amazon and Microsoft. Apple, on the other hand, prefers to rely on specialized operators, but its friends from Gafam, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft have managed in less than ten years to get their hands on a sector that has so far been dominated by the big international operators . of telecommunications.

Since Unity, the first transpacific cable it boarded in 2011, Alphabet has built or planned twenty other lines, five more than Meta. The French group Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), the leading European manufacturer of submarine fiber optic cables, estimates that 70% of current global projects, especially transpacific and transatlantic, are supported by Google, Facebook and Co. “On the transatlantic sea it is impossible today to make a cable without a Gafam”confirms Jean-Luc Vuillemin, director of the unit that runs all the international networks of the operator Orange, which itself owns submarine lines.

Internet stars quietly entered this sector in the early 2010s, often as minority investors alongside telecommunications players, with the desire to explore the underwater world. But in 2018, Google (which became a subsidiary of Alphabet in 2015) no longer wants to be a mere passenger. The group launched three projects on its own, including Curie, in tribute to Marie Curie, a cable connecting California to Chile. He brags about becoming that way “the first major non-telco to build a private intercontinental cable”. Meta, which was still called Facebook, follows suit.

These two Internet giants are concerned about the proper transport of their data to the end user and want to control their infrastructures. Since 2012, Google has also rolled out a fiber-optic offer to private individuals in several cities in the United States, thus competing directly with cable and telecom operators. Facebook worked on a drone internet connection solution, Aquila, before abandoning it in 2018. They are now concentrating their efforts on undersea cables.

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