The Gafam get their hands on the submarine cables to better control the Internet

When you read an email, watch a video, post a photo 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 information passes or has passed at any given time by an undersea fiber optic cable. These lines that abound at the bottom of the oceans and seas – the TeleGeography site, the bible of the sector, 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 succeeded in less than ten years in getting their hands on a sector hitherto dominated by the major international operators. of telecoms.

Since Unity, the first transpacific cable in which 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, particularly transpacific and transatlantic, are supported by Google, Facebook and Co. “On the transatlantic, it is impossible today to make a cable without a Gafam”confirms Jean-Luc Vuillemin, director of the entity operating all the international networks of the operator Orange, itself the owner of submarine lines.

Net stars entered this sector quietly at the dawn of the 2010s, often as minority investors alongside telecom 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 the Curie, in homage to Marie Curie, a cable linking California to Chile. He boasts of becoming like this “the first major non-telecom company to build a private intercontinental cable”. Meta, which was still called Facebook, follows suit.

Concerned about the proper transport of their data to the end user, these two Internet giants want to control their infrastructures. Since 2012, Google has also rolled out a fiber optic offer for individuals in several cities in the United States, thus directly competing with cable and telecom operators. Facebook worked on a solution for connecting to the Internet by drones, Aquila, before giving it up in 2018. They are now concentrating their forces on submarine cables.

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