Infographic: The 550,000 Miles Of Undersea Cabling That Powers The Internet

You think satellites send the world’s data around? Nah. Most still run by staggeringly long, underwater wires.

They seem so brittle. Cables that are a little more than two inches thick line our ocean floors, culminating in over half a million miles in length, transmitting terabytes of data across the globe every second. What about satellites? As of 2006, they represented just 1% of telecommunications traffic. Most of our information flows through these underwater pipes, laid by ships off gigantic spools.


Click to enlarge.

The Submarine Cable Map, by telecom research firm TeleGeography, is a vintage rendition of the worldwide network that drives our communications infrastructure today.

“The beautiful hand-drawn details found on old maps have always fascinated me and are sorely missing from contemporary cartography,” designer Markus Krisetya explains. “Modern maps are more often than not designed with accuracy and visual clarity in mind. I thought it would be fun to see if we could make a map about modern telecom technology using the aesthetics and artistic flourishes found in antique maps–without sacrificing the legibility of the data behind it.”

The result is gorgeous, like some combination of classic cartography and a modern tube map, or maybe a circuit board diagram. It’s almost odd that the aesthetics work so well, that the sharp, laser-like lines of underwater cables don’t clash with the illustrated watercolors of the main map. I can’t help but wonder if the unifying color pallette was the most important choice here; nothing says “old timey map” like a bit of washed-out fuchsia.

Interestingly enough, the map hides some other big pieces of data near the bottom of the print. On the left, we see which countries are sucking down the most data (spoiler: the U.S. eats the most). In the middle, a short timeline walks us through growing line capacity compared to use (we’ve had to double capacity in the last few years to keep ~80% of the lines free). And on the right, we see the delay in milliseconds of sending messages between countries. That looks irrelevant to you now–and it mostly is, for browsing the web–but compared to research on virtual and augmented reality, we see that this delay could be a huge limitation in the future of networked experiences.

If you’d like a map of your own, 36-by-50-inch prints are available now for $250.

Buy one here.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.