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Transoceanic Fiber Cable: a Luminary Discovery

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

This story is a bit more technical that what I’ve previously shared. That said, I’ll link to some definitions for you non-technical readers — I promise, this one is going to be worth the extra effort. However, a bit of technology is required in the telling — so please bear with me.

Let’s step back in time. The first transoceanic cables used copper wire as the conductor that carried signals between continents. Unfortunately, the technology at the time was such that the cables were extremely bandwidth-limited and could therefore support a very small number of simultaneous conversations.

Furthermore, the physics of metallic transmission dictated that the transmitted signals would decay over distance, making it necessary to amplify and/or regenerate the transmitted signal periodically. This was costly, and required additional circuitry to filter electromagnetic interference and increase the signal level every few thousand feet.

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Building Bridges Across Time and Distance

By Jason Kohn, Contributing Columnist

We’ve lived through a unique moment in human history. We’re likely the last generation that will remember a time before mobile phones or personal computers — before we could communicate with anyone, acquire virtually any piece of information, in seconds.

Having seen this sea change firsthand, we should have a sense of how profoundly new communication technologies can change society. But this isn’t the first time technology advances have reshaped human interactions. Take the completion of the first transatlantic undersea cable in 1858.

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20 Billion Bits Under The Sea

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

In Jules Verne’s 1869 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarine cruises past the first transatlantic telegraph cable. The book was published only three years after the first successful attempt to lay the undersea cable and was as wondrous at the time as Verne’s story. It connected New York and London and transmitted eight words per minute.

Businessman Cyrus Field first attempted to connect the two continents in 1858. He made five more attempts before he was successful, though it almost bankrupted him in the process. As historian Gillian Cookson said in a PBS documentary, “It was really a tool of commerce and a tool of news agencies. But because information could be passed so quickly and news could travel between the continents, [it was] revolutionary.”

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