The Starlink project could make fiber optic cables obsolete.
Commercial divers encounter a myriad of jobs, each more interesting than the next. All those jobs require the use of an optical fiber cable. Some divers have had the experience of working on a vessel laying fiber optics. Most others use them for diver video or for an internet connection. These cables are being purpose designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the marine environment and are so important they are being produced with Kevlar jackets for protection from sharks. While things in the underwater industry may be slow to change, technology is making waves that may change our use of optical fiber cables for our internet connections on a global scale. This technology is called Starlink, and it is currently in its beta testing phase. Starlink is a series of advanced low orbit satellites that could potentially provide an internet connection that will make fiber optics obsolete.
Before we talk about Starlink, I would like to provide a little background information about the underwater fiber optic cables that provide the network infrastructure for the internet to function globally. These subsea cables can stretch for thousands of miles and are the main link for data transfer between countries. Most countries banking systems are all connected by these cables underwater. When people say, “where is the cloud?” and point to the sky, they should really be pointing at their nearest body of water. That is correct: the connection to the cloud is technically in the fiber optic cables in the ocean. The reason these cables are placed underwater is because, historically, it has been significantly less expensive to do a subsea installation than to transmit data to satellites or launch new ones. Data latency issues are also more frequent with satellites as they can be interrupted by certain weather patterns. Anybody who has had Dish or Direct TV can attest to this. Another reason for subsea fiber optic installation is for data protection. It is a lot harder for spies to tamper with the data cables when they are located on the sea floor. The list goes on and on and the linking of countries by cable dates all the way back to 1858, when the first trans-Atlantic cable was completed. This was a telegraph cable built to connect the United States and Britain and was the internet of its day. Fast forward to 2021 and the way we have connected the entire world with a cable the same diameter as a garden hose is nothing short of amazing. These cables mirror to the global trade routes and have become the conduit for successful international trade and a nation’s economic stability.
The fact that fiberoptics are so great and dependable is what makes them the standard. This of course begs the questions, “Then why switch?” The answer to that question is Starlink. With currently 1,800 advanced low orbit satellite’s hovering somewhere between 340-745 miles above Earth, Starlink’s ability to connect multiple users to the internet is significantly greater than that of any other satellite internet service provider. Most satellites for television and internet are hovering around 21,750 miles above Earth. Since satellite competition is already out of the way, Starlink plans to expand its network by another 40,000 units. Once this phase is complete, fiber optics will have some real rivalry on its hands. There are some that say satellites will never replace cable, however at one time, many people said cars would never replace a horse for transportation.
According to PC Magazine, Starlink buzz is strong enough that Reviews.org did a survey of five hundred people over age 18 to ask whether they’d consider getting on board. Despite the cost ($499 for an antenna and router, plus $99 a month), over half of those surveyed said they are ready to sign up for the beta program, and 55% who do not use satellite now would stick with Starlink permanently if the connection speed was faster – even if it was more expensive than what they currently have. Forty-four percent of all respondents would stick with Starlink if they could make payments on the equipment rather than paying the $499 up front. (Griffith)
The other reason a person may want to switch is that a high-speed internet connection will be available anywhere. In rural areas and places that currently have no internet coverage, Starlink can provide it. The plan is also to be able to access the internet for highspeed moving vehicles like cars and trains. Since there are also no data caps, not only will you be able to access the internet in remote locations, you can download and upload as much data as you want. This is a big hit from streamers and gamers who use a lot of data. Seafarers who need the internet in the middle of the ocean, Starlink has you covered too. Sail anywhere and still watch the game or Facetime with your loved ones.
Although we are quite far from completely replacing fiber optics, in the short-term current internet providers have a target on their backs. This, however, is not going to stop any of the current projects underway that fiber optics are being used for. “Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America.” (“How the Internet Travels Across Oceans” 03:15–05:21.) Furthermore, content providers like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon now own or lease more than half of the undersea bandwidth. That means that even though telecommunications companies may have laid the cable and started the internet revolution, the tech giants of the new era are currently running our world. Not just the digital one either! Starlink is going to give some autonomy back to the users because their data and access to the data will not be able to be controlled. Places like China that are shut off from any outside grid and block fiber optics projects near them to control the information flow to their citizens will not be able to regulate this technology. Starlink puts the internet back in the hands of the people and not the corporations. This puts divers in a unique position where they can both work and get paid by the companies that do fiber optic installations, but they can also enjoy the benefits of satellite internet and communication. Remarkably, like the way a diver goes to the gas station wanting to save money on gas but also hoping that the price of crude is higher than Cheech and Chong. It seems that while we wait for Starlink to take over the metaverse, we can use the technology in real time to get a leg up on access to information and resources ahead of the competition when working in remote locations. If you want to get your hands on a Starlink system right now, head over to www.starlink.com.
Griffith, Eric. “Half of America Is Ready to Switch to Starlink Satellite Internet.” PCMAG, 14 Oct. 2021, www.pcmag.com/news/half-of-america-is-ready-to-switch-to-starlink-satellite-internet.
“How the Internet Travels Across Oceans.” The New York Times, uploaded by The New York Times, 13 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/10/technology/internet-cables-oceans.html.
Freedom House. “China.” Freedom House, 2021, freedomhouse.org/country/China/freedom-net/2021.
Sergenti, Filippo. “There Is No Cloud, Internet Is under the Ocean – Intuition.” Medium, 17 June 2021, medium.com/intuition/there-is-no-cloud-internet-is-under-the-ocean-d1af81d5b720.