Microsoft Facebook Complete Undersea Cable Link Between U.S., Spain

The high-speed cross-Atlantic link will help Microsoft and Facebook reach more users in Southern Europe and points beyond.

Microsoft, Facebook Atlantic Cable

Executives from Microsoft, Facebook and Telxius, along with area politicians, gathered in Williamsburg, Va. on Sept. 22 to announce that an undersea cable called Marea—Spanish for "tide"—had been completed.

The fiber-optic cable links Virginia Beach, Va. and Bilbao, Spain to transmit data at speeds of 160 terabits per second. According to the companies, that's 16 million times faster than the average household internet connection and enough bandwidth to stream 71 million videos in HD simultaneously.

Telxius, a subsidiary of Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica, is no stranger to laying undersea cable. The telecommunications infrastructure firm had already established connections to its home country from Africa and Australia.

The Marea project is unique in many respects. Whereas most undersea cable running between North America and Europe link the British Isles to the New York metropolitan area or Canada, Marea stretches 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean along a decidedly more southerly track.

Nestled 17,000 feet under the water's surface, Marea weighs nearly 10.25 million pounds and was completed just ahead of schedule. Microsoft originally estimated an October 2017 completion date—less time than it typically takes projects involving existing cable designs. Marea was first announced in May 2016 and it took less than two years to finish, from the design stage to final construction, whereas standard methods and technologies require roughly five years.

The cable's new "open" design consists of eight fiber pairs and will make it easier to upgrade and deliver connectivity services at lower costs, according to Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash, software and cloud services provider also views the new high-speed link as an opportunity that spans both sides of the Atlantic.

Speaking during a media event, Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith, called Marea "a connection that will bring the next billion users of the internet—in Africa, in the Middle East, across Southern Europe—closer to those of us who live in the United States. This is part of the infrastructure of the 21st century."

On a local level, Smith called attention to Microsoft's investments in Virginia, which include a massive, 550-acre data center campus that delivers cloud services in Boydton, Va. The company is also running an initiative called Airband that takes unused UHF frequencies, or TV whitespaces, to provide broadband internet service to rural and under-served communities.

For Facebook, the new link helps support its mission "to bring the world closer together," said Erin Egan, chief privacy officer and vice president and of U.S. Public at the social media giant.

As the "highest-capacity system in the Atlantic," Egan said Marea was important to Facebook as it "continues to bring more people on our service, and more and more people are using data-intensive services." She added that the new cable allows the company to diversify its traffic routes.

Marea isn't Microsoft's first foray into the world of undersea cables.

In May 2015, the company announced a deal with Hibernia and Aqua Comms to connect Microsoft's data center infrastructure to the U.K. Microsoft also joined a consortium that also includes China Mobile, China Telecom and TE SubCom, among others, on the New Cross Pacific Cable Network linking North America and Asia.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...