Google subsea cable will handle data surge between US, Brazil, Argentina


Cable maker Subcom is making the Fermina fiber optic cable this year and installing it in 2022. It should start carrying data in 2023.

A ship lays a Google undersea cable

Google is building a new subsea cable to shuttle your megabits between the eastern US, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. The fiber optic line, named Firmina after the Brazilian abolitionist, is due to begin operations in 2023.

“Internet infrastructure isn’t in the cloud, it’s under the ocean,” said Bikash Kole, vice president of global networking at Google. Firmina is the 16th submarine cable that Google has built or invested in. “The Internet is still growing steadily year after year. I hope the train continues,” he said.

It is important to add capacity to accommodate search, consumer services like Gmail and YouTube, and business infrastructure like Google Cloud. About 98% of international data travels on submarine cables draped in the bottom of oceans and seas, Google said, and Google Meet videoconferencing increased by a factor of 25 when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

as it does with daily google doodleGoogle pays tribute to notable celebrities with their submarine cable names. The cable is named after the mixed-race writer María Firmina dos Reis, who wrote about the lives of Afro-Brazilian slaves in her 1859 novel Ursula. Google also marked his 194th birthday in 2019 with a Google Doodle.

Google names its own subsea cables alphabetically – mostly. Its most recently announced subsea cable is called Grace Hopper after the pioneering computer scientist and discoverer of an actual bug in early computers. “The sequence was a little off,” Cole said of the naming order. The first Google cables were named Curie, Dunant and Equiano.

Google didn’t share the cable’s expected data capacity, but it will carry data over 12 pairs of fiber optic lines over a distance of thousands of miles. For comparison, the Grace Hopper cable, with 16 pairs, has a capacity of 250 terabits per second with 16 fiber pairs connecting the US to the UK and Spain.

Firmina Subsea Cable Route

Google’s Fermina subsea cable route will connect the US with Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

This is also about 250,000 times faster than the faster gigabit-per-second broadband that uses fiber optic lines. Cooley said subsea cables could cram in more data by using more fiber optic lines and with more expensive terminals that take advantage of higher light frequencies and other signal processing tricks to squeeze in more data.

Google hired SubCom to design and install the cable. Subcom said in a statement, it will build the cable at its facility in Newington, New Hampshire this year and install the cable during the summer of 2022.

Submarine cables must boost signal strength about every 100 kilometers (62 mi), and power lines bundled within the cable supply the power. An unusual aspect of Firmina is that it can be powered from either end of the cable, increasing reliability over more common designs that rely on power from both ends at all times, Cole said.

This approach, which Subcom calls single-end feed power, requires an 18-kilovolt power supply—about 20% more than conventional designs. Subcom expects the longest cable to use the Fermina technology.

Google has yet to select a site for a US cable terminal. Its southern destinations are Las Toninas in Argentina, Praia Grande in Brazil and Punta del Este in Uruguay.

Google participates in partnerships with other cable operators, swapping capacity on similar routes to strengthen the overall lattice of communications links.

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