What Lies Beneath: The First Transatlantic Communications Cables | Hackaday

2022-05-14 22:46:38 By : Ms. Rico Ke

For some reason, communications and power infrastructure fascinates me, especially the long-haul lines that move power and data over huge distances. There’s something about the scale of these projects that really gets to me, whether it’s a high-tension line marching across the countryside or a cell tower on some remote mountain peak. I recently wrote about infrastructure with a field guide that outlines some of the equipment you can spot on utility poles. But the poles and wires all have to end at the shore. Naturally we have to wonder about the history of the utilities you can’t see – the ones that run under the sea.

We tend to forget how isolated the world was in the 19th century. The invention and commercialization of telegraphy in the middle of the century lead to a rapid build-out of the lines and circuits needed to connect cities and towns across the world. People rapidly got used to communicating at the speed of light, but since the telegraph system was limited by wires strung on poles, the speed of communication across the ocean quickly dropped to the speed of the fastest ship.

Telegraph companies and bold entrepreneurs began dreaming of undersea telegraph lines, and even managed to lay a few across narrow bodies of water by the 1850s. But the dream of connecting Europe and America seemed too audacious, at least until Cyrus West Field came along. A self-made man and one of the richest in New York, Field was retired by his 30s and sitting on a load of capital. He decided to throw his resources into a transatlantic cable that would run on the Great Circle Route from Newfoundland to Ireland, with existing submarine cables completing the link from England to the United States.

These efforts were met by a series of disasters. The first cable snapped after only a few miles had been laid due to a nervous engineer who slammed on the laying gear brakes. With multiple expeditions over a four-year period, a cable was completed in 1858. The event was greeted by raucous celebrations by jubilant crowds on both sides of the ocean. Queen Victoria and President Buchanan exchanged ceremonial greetings over the line, but it must have been a boring conversation – line quality issues limited bandwidth severely enough to make the 96-word message take hours to transmit. Quality rapidly degraded, and soon a single word would take an hour to come across. Within a month, the line went dead completely, thanks to the efforts of one Wildman Whitehouse, chief electrician for the cable. He applied 2000 volts to cable and ruined it.

Subsequent cables were laid, some by Field’s company and some by others. Advances in cable design, and better hires in the engineering department, lead to greater durability, better bandwidth, and multiple circuits in the same cable. Eventually the technology advanced to multiplex telegraphy, and by the late 1870s a sophisticated web of lines connecting the Old World and the New World hummed with traffic. The hemispheres have been connected ever since.

Despite the advances in cable-laying technology during this period, and even though the telephone came into use by the late 1870s, it wouldn’t be until 1956 that the first transatlantic telephone system, TAT-1, was brought online. From our point of view, it might seem odd that it took almost a century to go from telegraphy to telephony, but piping a phone call through 2800 km of wire is quite a bit more technically challenging than clicking a telegraph sounder. It would take the technological developments of a pair of world wars and the rise of the radio industry to provide the essential pieces of equipment: coaxial cable and inline repeaters.

The early submarine telegraph cables were simple in design: copper conductors insulated and waterproofed with natural materials like hemp rope and gutta percha, and armored with steel wire. But telephone calls require more bandwidth than telegraphy, and simple parallel conductors, especially ones surrounded by a conductive medium like seawater, are not good at the higher frequencies needed for higher bandwidth. Developments in coax allowed more signals to be packed onto a single line, and made the cable financially feasible.

The TAT-1 system would have two cables, one for east-west traffic, the other for west-east calls. The core of each cable was a single coaxial cable with a solid copper center conductor, polyethylene dielectric, and multiple shields of copper tape. The shield not only provided a return path for the signal but also protected the cable from marine worms. The whole cable was wrapped in cloth tape and jute impregnated with waterproofing and wrapped in steel wires for armoring. Heavier armor was used on the 500 km sections closest to each shore, where damage from anchors and trawling nets was more likely.

The coaxial cable alone wasn’t enough to propagate the signals across the Atlantic, though. The cable design for TAT-1 included flexible inline repeaters to boost the signal at 69 km intervals. Each of the 2.5 meter long repeaters used three vacuum tubes, specially ruggedized and built to withstand the pressure 8000 meters under the sea. The repeaters provided 65 dB of gain and a 144 kHz bandwidth. Vacuum tubes were used despite the fact that the repeaters were designed by Bell Labs, which had only recently invented the transistor; it was felt that transistors weren’t proven technology like vacuum tubes. That would turn out to be the right call – not a single one of the hundred plus tubes failed during the 22 years TAT-1 was in service.

When TAT-1 went into service in September of 1956 it provided 36 channels – 35 phone channels with 4 kHz of bandwidth, with 22 telegraph circuits on the 36th channel. Improvements in carrier technology and narrowing the bandwidth to 3 kHz eventually brought the cable up to 51 channels. In 1963 the hotline between Moscow and Washington went into service over TAT-1 using a teleprinter (the fabled “red phone” is a farce, this was never a voice line). TAT-1 stayed in service until 1978, and the success of the system led to a long line of TAT cables. All the TAT cables have been retired except for TAT-14, a fiber optic cable designed to carry 9.38 Tb/s that went into service in 2001. It’s worth noting that the US government lists TAT-14’s landing point in the Netherlands as a critical infrastructure target for terrorists.

Since the first transatlantic cables were laid, hundreds of others have joined them, crossing almost ever ocean and joining every continent except Antarctica. These cables tie the world together in a way the early pioneers couldn’t imagine, but which their successes and failures made possible.

Good to know. Oh and the Internet does use underwater cables, actually fibre-optic bundles for the transmission of such.

Love articles like this – keep them coming :)

Thanks! I love writing them, so watch for more.

It is always amazing to think how far we have come in such a short amount of time (in the grand scheme of things). Hats off to the people who got us here. Very neat article. Will the next one be on the development of satellite communications? Seems like a logical progression.

Satellites are not used for very much two way real time communications. Satellite’s latency is at best 20 times more than non-satellite services. Geostationary orbit is 35,786 km (22,236 mi) above sea level. For RF(light) to travel that huge distance up and back takes time even at the speed of light – 299792458 metres per second (vacuum). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEpsKnWZrJ8

The bandwidth is amazing, but the latency is dire and no amount of money can reduce latency lower, physics is a female dog :)

Long latency is true for the geostationary birds like Inmarsat (a half second or so, round-trip), but the LEO satellites like Globalstar and Iridium have much lower latencies, being only 3 milliseconds away. They run all-digital though, and their codecs and multi-hop network delays add up, so the real total latency is almost as bad as geostationary (a few hundred milliseconds for voice, even longer for lower priority low-rate data).

It’s funny to watch a newbie try to hold a conversation on a high-latency Inmarsat link. Some people seem to instinctively ‘get it’ and impose discipline on their speech quickly, but some others just get increasingly irate.

I have designed and built many commercial satellite earth stations in my time. It is interesting to demonstrate the delay to/from geostationary orbit directly in the earth station. I would drop and insert a pair of channels and set up a loopback call. I originate the call and the recipient standing before me picks it up. The delay becomes a serious issue when the callers face each other. Then I’ll turn the other person around so they can’t see me and continue the conversation. The effect of the echo is dramatically reduced when there is no visual contact. It is even further reduced if the two parties cannot hear each other other than over the satellite link (but that’s not hard to accomplish in an earth station equipment room, which is often a rather noisy place).

This is why there is a large delay when watching a news media field journalist using a satellite link. When he/she is asked questions by HQ you wonder why they aren’t answering the question faster. Turns out they don’t hear the question right away and their response takes time too. So that is time going up and time coming back down. That makes a noticeable delay in conversation. They could eliminate the visible effect by NOT asking follow up questions over the sat-link making it a 1-way system. They could send follow up questions via an Internet terminal in front of the reporter with a video splitter to the TV audience. The reporter would get them in real time answer the questions by repeating what they say on screen. The TV audience has no idea when the feed started so they never see a delay (even though it is still present). The Internet terminal does not have to travel that far as it uses a different shorter route hence there is no noticeable delay.

Even better: don’t do it live, and just edit out the damned delays.

The lag was, of course, really bad for the Apollo missions when they were at the moon. John Walker did a great treatment of those audio recordings, editing them so we can hear what it sounded like to the men there: https://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/RelativityOfSimultaneity/

Paul – Speaking of time-delay due to the speed-of-light over vast distances. I would like to see someone invent this: A DEEP SPACE ASTRONAUT FAMILY COMMUNICATIONS SIMULATOR. It could also be used for undersea submariners too.

Essentially it uses a artificial intelligence super-computer engine that takes photos, videos, and voice samples from your family members. Your family would volunteer to sit at HQ to film sequences for the computer. It uses the video game video rendering of that new Microsoft game that looks life-like. The interactive AI would know what to say to you at any particular time of day in deep space or based on your detected mood. It can hold a interactive sentient-like conversation with you using your loved one’s likeness and voice.

You’d know it was fake but it makes you feel good anyway when you get homesick. It fools your senses. Occasionally when the speed of light delay allows, the system interrupts you to tell you you have a REAL FamilyGram pending. The AI can sample the FG for new queues to use on you later.

This could be used for a number of other unrelated scenarios in where isolation and radio-silence is required too.

If you have a landline Internet connection, you can probably just send the video over that. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sometimes do. In the middle of nowhere though, satellites are all you have.

Greenaum – Yes they do that sometimes via SKYPE. However, a satellite link is so much better with great bandwidth and the picture and sound is better too.

During the mess in Tianaman Square (PRC – Beijing) the PRC (their MSS) was blocking all outside comms (including satellite) so no one knew what was really going on in rest of the world. However, they did not block common phone calls (go figure). So thanks to HAM Radio there is a video technology most people don’t even know exists: SSTV; with slow-scan-TV all you need is a video camera, SSTV gadget, and an audio line like a 2-way radio or a telephone line, and then you can send your outside partner pictures anywhere in the world.

Greenaum – Thanks to GOOGLE, satellites may not be all you have any more. They are working on a BALLOON network that may be able to assist you if you have LOS to one (or more) flying at high altitude. However, being in MOTFA may not be such a “dead zone” any more. Even the Amazon has access to cell towers now.

The easiest way to see latency is to watch the same TV channel on two tvs, one getting the signal from a satellite and one OTA, the latency is obvious.

A lot of that is the compression/decompression time for digital video. Pull the cable out the back of a cable or sat box and the video continues for a second or two

Yeah the compressor imposes a minimum algorithmic delay then now they try and optimise the overall bit rate they keep a buffer of several more seconds so they can do more non realtime compression optimisation is what is really a realtime stream then at the end of this it gets blasted around to the sat up link and then some final second or so for the Satellite it’s self. Watch some digital channels (Say the BBC here inthe UK) and they are several seconds behind the terestrial signal. In fact that delay seems to have got longer now they have really turned the wick up on the compressor and reducing the bit rate required for a given channel. Not sure if that’s just abigger buffer or what !

Or listen to the same radio station on the computer and the radio at the same time.

The same can also be done with an AM/FM radio and an online streaming source for the same station that the radio is tuned too.

A lot of (if not all) stations that stream over satellite intentionally delay the terestrial signal so that the satellite one is in sync. The difference you hear in your test is most likely because of a different way of decoding the signal and the way the TV handles it, you can hear this when comparing an old set-top-box with a new one. HDMI tends to introduce perceptible lag as well.

So all of this started as a series of tubes after all…

I get a bit dizzy at the thought of vacuum tube amplifiers working for 20+ years in such an environment. Impressed.

Yes that fact is really impressive… 8000 meters under water… jeez

Apparently the vacuum tubes used in the underwater repeaters were specified to have an MTBF of 100 years I recall reading at one time.

If the comment “not a single one of the hundred plus tubes failed during the 22 years TAT-1 was in service” is accurate, it implies a MTBF (or, more accurately, MTTF) of much, MUCH longer than 100 years, and they were grossly overengineered. Now, if they really were engineered to have a MTTF of 100 years, (and making grossly negligent assumptions of the failure rate probability density function) then the cable would be expected to fail four or five years after installation…

I suspect that the cable was designed to work with at least a few failed tubes. I suspect the reality is that no cable has failed due to failed tubes.

They were grossly over-engineered. As an old phart and once an audiophool, I managed to stumble on a source of those tubes – WE 350b’s – more or less a 6L6 in specs. I put them up for sale and got well over $300 each for them from current audiophools. They really were “no expense spared” built.

Just for shit’s and giggles, I goggled the tube..1st link that offers them wants $1195.00 for ONE… Hand build tubes probably cost less than that :P

They were hand built – anyway we likely both know idiot audiophiles that would be happy to pay those prices and more for an amp populated with them.

I’m reminded of Neal Stephenson’s epic and excellent article on underwater cables: http://www.wired.com/1996/12/ffglass/

Yes – that was my introduction to the REAL world of global communications. I stumbled onto Stephenson’s article when I noticed that I was having trouble getting to some foreign websites, and discovered not only this article, but also that in the previous few days, there had been three separate cable breakages. All were officially attributed to ships dragging anchors, but there was some conjecture that the coincidence was fantastic.

But bigger than the effect on my Internet access was the fact that a big piece of India’s (for example) economy depends on having cheap telephone connections to the US and Europe.

Yup, it is a bit mad that it’s cheaper to run call centres 2,000 miles away (or however far), just because wages are lower there. In the past you’d spend a week’s income just to be able to call India.

And they still don’t want to believe why people do not like their tastes in ads, and why I run a blocker. Even though I reset things, they didn’t get it.

A bit of editing gets past Wired’s stupid attempt at a filter. They still send the page, just use a bit of crappy Javascript to put a big white square over it. Idiots. Their articles aren’t much better than their ad-blocker-blocker.

Rather than fighting people who’ve chosen to use ad-blockers, they ought to be curbing the excesses of advertisers, and getting their shit together for the security. There are plenty of good reasons to use ad blockers, but these idiots keep their head in the sand, can’t think of any way to do it beyond fighting their site’s visitors.

“It’s worth noting that the US government lists TAT-14’s landing point in the Netherlands as a critical infrastructure target for terrorists”

Just great.. now Abu Iz Adumone knows exactly where to plant his IED.

Seriously? You really think that Hackaday revealed something that every terrorist cell in the world isn’t already aware of? Wow…

Obviously it is not in NETHERLANDS. Julian Assange said where it really was so I will not repeat it here.

Can someone explain how the repeaters work to me? To amplify a signal, you need to add power to it, and I don’t see any power supply hookups in the middle of the ocean.

Consider a string of zener diodes in series. The drop across each one powers that amplifier. AC isolate the zener at each side by way of inductors. Couple the signal to be amplified across the inductors and into / out of the amplifier(s) by way of caps,

This is pretty much how an in-line booster for your TV antenna or your cable TV network’s system works.

The DC thru the cable powers the amplifiers, and the signals of interest all are modulated (AC)

Don’t remember where, but I read somewhere that the DC input to some of the modern submarine cables is over 1 KV. Note that fiber optic cables still have a copper conductor for power only, while older coaxial cables put the power on the center conductor.

I was going to ask the same thing. Maybe the signal was DC-biased from both ends?

They’re powered by several thousand volts, with a return path through the seawater.

“with a return path through the seawater.”

Wouldn’t that cause terrible corrosion ?

Fortunately, the designers included provision for a cable to be connected to every repeater. They just need to remember to bring a cable long enough, and have the right outlet adapter for the other end… :-)

Seriously — it’s no different (in principle) to power injectors used for mast-mounted TV preamplifiers, or power over ethernet. Optical fiber amplifiers have dedicated conductors for the power in the cable along with the fibers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias_tee http://www.microwaves101.com/encyclopedias/bias-tee

They are used in radio a lot to provide power to an active antenna amplifier, the DC goes up to the antenna through the coax, the amplified RF comes back as AC.

Have u ever heard of electronic harassment or some people call it voice to skull?

“Voice to Skull” sounds pseudo-technical. I just call them “the voices in my head”.

Yes a lot of people think your crazy but the government use to do this to people a lot. Your not literally implanted it works of nanochemicals your body produces. It’s a mind game so it interferes with your thinking so I feel like I don’t have enough of sense to figure it out on my own. That’s why I need all the help I can get. U. have brain to brain or computer to brain interface and they use electronic weapons cooking your organs. Also if u can but neuro Sky products that can help u control your sick parents mind because they’ve gone bad, your kids ADHD, your spouses drinking or temper well u can but something to interfere with your enemies mind. If u know anything about this please let me know. It’s called electronic harassment if u have time to read it. I have a appointment to see a private investigator that scans you for this type of technology but it’s pretty expensive. Need knowledge about this in a bad way if u know anything or know someone who does. Thanks!

With fiber optics the power supply must be coming across a copper pair running with the fiber optic bundle. Some vacuum tubes have milspec MTBF ratings. They are always underestimated on purpose. I’ve seen some in metal casings. The tubes in American military transceivers like the old RT-70 VHF man-pack are quite awesome looking when you open the case to look inside. I also think we still use tubes for high-powered broadcast transmitters as solid state can’t handle so many watts used.

> I also think we still use tubes for high-powered broadcast transmitters as solid state can’t handle so many watts used.

“BBC Radio 4 long wave, which transmits on the 198 kilohertz frequency, relies on ageing transmitter equipment that uses a pair of the valves – no longer manufactured – to function.

The valves, at Droitwich in Worcestershire, are so rare that engineers say there are fewer than 10 in the world, and the BBC has been forced to buy up the entire global supply. Each lasts anywhere between one and 10 years, and when one of the last two blows the service will go quiet.”

(I’d like to link to the Guardian article that quote is from – titled “Radio 4’s long wave goodbye” and published on Sunday 9 October 2011 18.58 BST – but the URL is stopping me from posting!)

Well if you can send BBC 4 a message. Tell them this Yank company in California still does it: ARS Electronics 7110 De Celis Place Van Nuys , California 91406 USA Tel: 818-997-6279 | Fax: 818-997-6158

“We supply Transmitter Tubes for AM-FM-TV Transmitters. From 250 watts to 100,000 watts.”

Or this US company still manufacturers them: http://www.cpii.com/division.cfm/9

Heh. The R4 LW transmitter kicks out half a megawatt :)

I wonder if I’m allowed to post the link this time?


I dug and dug but couldn’t find anything on the internal arrangement of TAT-1’s repeaters. I know the benthic section of the cable used the flexible repeaters designed by Bell Labs and built by Western Electric. The inshore sections used rigid repeaters that were built by the British half of the consortium.

I’d love to get a look at the guts of either repeater. Would be amazing to see what one looked like after 22 years submerged.

TAT-1 has been submerged for 60 years now. I wonder if any of the disused cables could be brought back into service for ??? With the technology available today, what might their data speed be?

According to this article, the cable from the shore to the head end at the Scotland landing was removed shortly after the cable was decommissioned. You’ve got to imagine the same happened at the Newfoundland landing.

But here’s the thing – if the cable is still down there, what would the price of copper need to be to make it financially worth salvaging? And what would the maritime salvage laws covering that be?

The Bell System Technical Journal (BSTJ) dedicated an entire issue to TAT-1 in 1957 (Volume 36, Issue 1 Jan 1957).

This issue contains articles on the design and construction of the repeaters, as well as the ultrahigh reliability vacuum tubes themselves.

The entire run of these was once available via the Alcatel/Lucent website, but they have apparently disappeared behind a paywall courtesy of the IEEE. Fortunately, the relevant issue is available at a few places around the web, including:


Here http://atlantic-cable.com/Cables/1956TAT-1/index.htm Bell labs Journal has pictures and a description of the 175HQ tube used.

Was the cable weighted down, or just sitting at the bottom by its own weight?

Cables are pretty heavy, so I think they just sink into the muck. At least where there is muck – some of the seabed is pretty rocky. Also, I saw that for the first telegraph line, Field used a hydrologic survey of the Atlantic that revealed a plateau stretching pretty much along the Great Circle from Newfoundland to Ireland. He used that plateau to lay all his cables.

The inshore sections of modern cables are generally buried a few feet into the seabed with either a plow dragged by the cable laying vessel or by hydraulic dredgers that blast a trench in the seafloor for the cable.Getting the cable buried is good protection from anchors and trawlers, but it makes recovering the cable for service a bit tougher. And there’s the effects on the pelagic environment – having a cable plowed through mussel beds and the like can really have an impact.

Own weight. When they needed to repair it they would need to bring it up with grapnel hook. Some times long runs that are exposed to deep canyons in where the cable was suspended between two canyons and has not fallen back, it might be exposed to a large creature like a whale or shark might tangle with it and break it. Sharks may avoid it due to the subtle electrical charges, but that may also attract them too.

Yes, I recall reading (as a lad) about one undersea cable that tangled to a whale and broke.

I recommend a visit to the museum at Porthcurno in Cornwall, UK if you are interested in underwater cabling – very interesting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porthcurno_Telegraph_Museum

We have one too in Cape Cod Massachusetts (USA).

In the last paragraph, second line is the word “ever” supposed to be ever or every?

Some of the names of these4 cables are fascinating – some less so.

My favourite so far is the “Sea-Me-We3”. I bet the engineers pissed themselves laughing over that one. Nonetheless, it stretches from the UK to Australia (39,000km) with 39 landing points in 33 countries; two fibre pairs with 8 wavelengths each.

Price is about $50 per km for a 2Mbit/sec circuit (the minimum unit you can buy)

It’s also interesting to see how many cables stop in Guam, South Korea and Singapore. Fairly sure that’s where FVEY sets up…

Interesting all the bits where they’ve run marine cable when they could’ve gone over land. Must be cheaper I suppose, even over the long term including reliability. Also interesting the incredibly long list of companies who joint-own the cable.

Greenaum – Solves the “right of way”, “eminent domain”, or real estate issues. Very rarely does anyone get into a real estate issue with King Neptune or Poseidon! :-)

Here in America we found an elegant way to run fiber inter-metropolitan with little or no real estate issues. We use rail ways (active or dormant). Usually the rails are not usually owned by any private rail companies. They are usually owned by government. Federal or state. There are some that are owned by RR companies but not many.

The fiber comm entity desiring a cable run only has to interest the governmental authority to bury their fiber runs along the rail. Either they’ll tax it or just donate it as it may serve the govt’s other communications interests. The way rails run through USA, you can imagine how AT&T Long Lines looks on jealously saying “Why didn’t we think of that?!” With this you don’t need any of AT&T’s copper or monopolistic right-of-ways for anything. Almost any company has a rail running near their business. It’s easy-peasy to run the “last mile” fiber from the rail terminus to a local building without even coming out of the ground. No telephone poles needed.

They try and run a lot of redundant “dark fiber” to allow for future expansion and other side projects, They could run this intercontinental to Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America. I believe QWEST is doing something like this to Mexico.

It makes sense to bury much more fibre than you need. Even allowing for future advances allowing more data to squeeze down the same fibre. No idea how the Shannon limits work on optical fibre. Well, I can guess the basics, theoretically anything that goes down a fibre should be eligible, and they can tune wavelengths very well.

But since I imagine much of the expense is the actual trench-digging, and of course the right of way expense / pain in the arse, makes sense to put as much fibre down as you can, even though fibre isn’t cheap. I also read a few years ago of robots that can run through gas pipes to plop down fibre, makes sense too, for the tiny amount of space a cable takes up, and how much money it generates, vs an extra cm2 or two of gas pipe capacity. Let everyone’s Sunday roast take an extra 15 seconds, it’s a fair trade for fibre comms.

Greenaum – Right! The Shannon Limits would be astronomical for just one fibre. Also the trench work is minimal as a single back-hoe could lay conduit for several miles (Km) in one day. It’s not deep trench and the cable(s) are not armored like in transoceanic. The conduit takes all the exterior damage. Also by laying loads of dark-fibre (spare dead cable), you can sell it to future clients who want to piggy-back into your system. Here in USA we have to bow to regulatory agencies who regulated public utilities (DPUC). With this system it is totally PRIVATE and the government can’t really interfere unless they own the railway (which they usually do) However, the public is not impacted so they have latitude to cut you some slack and let you do whatever you want as it applies to fibre-optic communications. You could build your own metropolitan area network that allows VOIP between companies like B2B-VOIP. You don’t need AT&T or any other public carrier. You are your own carrier. However, the government will want a piece of that action in return like some dark-fibre or some how link up their DOT offices with VOIP.

I’m noticing more and more PRIVATE VOIP nodes and I see some obscure VOIP IP addresses in company interoffice memos and emails involving me. I ask how I can use the damn thing and I get NOTHING back! Almost like mind your own business and use our normal POTS lines or email.

No doubt about FVEY. I’m amazed it’s only $50 per km, but I guess when you buy cable 10000 km of it at a time you can get a good price on fiber. And the wavelength division multiplexing lets you get the most data through that fiber.

AussieLauren – If I’m not mistaken, your country’s FIVE-EYES station is near Alice Springs at Pine Gap. It’s in the bloody middle of the outback. Don’t think anyone is running cable out there. Mostly all satellite stuff. Only the Americans have the balls to run an illegal and tricky fiber-tap in the middle of the Pacific.See Project Jennifer (actually name was AZORIAN). They wanted everyone to think they wanted Howard Hughes ship (GLOMAR) to go find a sunken Soviet nuclear-missile submarine. They did but they were actually hiding their real goal; an illegal tap into the transoceanic cable. They fought FOIA on this who knows what they left behind or is still operational? They did it in San Fransisco in Room 641A thanks to AT&T ongoing affair with NSA.

PINE GAP https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Pine_Gap_by_Skyring.jpg

For more than you’d ever want to know about TAT-1 (unless you’re a techno-geek like me), find a copy of the Bell Systems Technical Journal of January 1957. It contains a whole series of articles, written by the responsible engineers themselves, on every aspect of the system.

History Detectives identifies a piece of old undersea cable which conducted some very historic messages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vJAN57RDOw

I watched that episode. It was pretty neat. I’d like to find some cool historical stuff sometime.


I can’t believe Stephenson’s article hasn’t been mentioned yet.

It was. About this time yesterday. Do try to keep up, son.

Just watch this 2 days ago about the history of this: PBS American Experience & Transatlantic Cable

How astoundingly US-centric! Did Europeans contribute anything at all in this area? Well, Yes!

“Lasting connections were finally achieved with the 1866 cable and the 1865 cable, which was repaired by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship SS Great Eastern”

The first cable mentioned in the article was actually manufactured in Britain: “It was made jointly by two English firms – Glass, Elliot & Co., of Greenwich, and R. S. Newall & Co., of Birkenhead.”

The guy who wrecked the cable with 2000v was a numpty who knew almost nothing about electricity, but worse still wouldn’t listen to the pre-eminent 19th century Brit scientist, Lord Kelvin about a better way to receive signals. It was he, whose high voltages kept damaging the cable causing slower communications and he even insisted on removing Kelvin’s Galvanometer in favour of his own ‘Patented’ system. This is the Mr Kelvin of the absolute Temperature scale called Kelvin.

The first correctly designed cable (which was the key engineering requirement) was built in Haymill, Birmingham, England.

Finally, it was the British ship: The Great Eastern, designed by the brilliant Engineer Brunel; laying the British Cable, to a British design, that laid the first successful Telegraph cable in 1865 (it snapped half-way, but then the Great Eastern went back to Blighty; grabbed a hook; FOUND the broken cable; spliced it and then completed the cable-laying to Newfoundland).

In other words, the Americans kept mucking it up in the 1850s and it took British engineering to get it right.

OK, so my comment is not completely fair, e.g. the numpty Whitehouse was a Brit too and I’ve ignored the impressive financial contributions the Americans made to the whole enterprise. But it really is riling whenever Americans present a completely US centric view of the world – it’s like, Yes, the US is 8x more populous than the UK, but they don’t need to compound it by rewriting history, they have plenty of great achievements of their own :-) !


They probably believe that it was the Americans who invented the first Von Neumann computer. Tch. ;-)


OK, maybe they invented the second one..


It made me ask the question on how fast does electricity travel in a copper wire, after all there is 2800 km between each continent and it’s not fiber optics which we know goes at the speed of light. Turns out, electrons moves very slowly in a wire but the signal goes pretty much at the speed of light. I found a really good explanation here: http://www.uu.edu/dept/physics/scienceguys/2001Nov.cfm

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