To date FLAG, or the Fiber Optic Link Around the Globe, is the longest single cable network in the world. Completed in 1997, the cable begins in Porthcurno, England, and runs through the Strait of Gibraltar to Palermo, Sicily before stretching across the Mediterranean to Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt. From here it travels overland to the FLAG Network Operations Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The cable crosses the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, travels overland across Thailand and then up through the South China Sea to Lan Tao Island in Hong Kong. It finally terminates in Japan in two separate locations: Ninomiya and Miura.
All told the cable is some 28,000-km or 17,500 miles long. Linking to FLAG is JARING, a Malaysian network largely trafficked by Southeast Asian Internet users.
But with the China-U.S. cable in the works, FLAG stands to lose its stature as the longest cable in the world. Expected to be more than 30,000 km or 18,750 miles long, the cable will have a total capacity of 80 gigabytes per second, or enough to simultaneously carry four million phone calls.
With more than 950,000 circuits, it will be the largest network of its kind ever constructed. Initial China-U.S. investors, including Teleglobe, Tyco Submarine Systems, Alcatel, KDD, AT&T, Lucent, and Sprint, expect to spend a total of U.S. $1 billion to build the network.
The cable's ring architecture will have full internal restoration, meaning it will instantly reroute traffic in the event of cable damage. With stops in China, Japan, Guam, Korea, Taiwan, and the U.S., the new cable is expected to meet the traffic needs between the two continents well into the next decade. "By the year 2000, China's tele density rate will grow from approximately seven percent currently, to between 30 and 40 percent in urban areas," says Seth Blumenfeld, president of MCI International.
The same consortium of companies involved in the U.S.-China cable is also pooling their resources in two other major projects: one linking the U.S. and South America, the other linking the U.S. and southern Europe.
Americas II is a 8300 km or 5200 mile-long system that will run from Hollywood, Florida to Fortaleza, Brazil, with the same 80 gigabyte per second capacity as the U.S-China link. The project is largely fueled by increases in Internet use: more than 80% of international cable traffic to Brazil is Internet-based.
The second cable project, Columbus III, will link the United States and Europe and will be able to carry up to a half a million calls simultaneously. The 10,000 km or 6250 mile long system will connect Hollywood, Florida with Mazara, Italy, stopping in the Azores & Portugal along the way.
"These links are being built to accommodate not only increased long distance traffic, but the next generation of Internet applications," says McCants. "For instance, video-conferencing could become as common as sending e-mail." As history shows, the demand for undersea network capacities will only increase. There's no such thing as too much cable.