The Battle Beneath the Waves: U.S. and China’s Race for Undersea Internet Dominance

In the ever-evolving world of technology, the race to achieve global dominance in the internet industry has intensified. China and the United States, two world superpowers, are leading the way in constructing massive undersea fiber-optic internet cables, which will enable faster data transmission and wider reach of internet connectivity. This article explores the current situation, the challenges it presents, and the potential future of the undersea cable industry.

China’s state-owned telecom companies are leading the undersea cable race by laying a $500 million fiber-optic internet cable network on the sea floor. The cable, named Europe-Middle East-Asia (EMA), will stretch from Hong Kong to China’s island province of Hainan and continue on to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Singapore, and France. This ambitious project aims to provide faster connectivity to China’s neighboring countries and increase its influence in the international information technology market.

SubCom’s SeaMeWe-6 Cable

Not to be outdone, an American subsea cable company called SubCom is installing its own cable called South East Asia–Middle East–Western Europe 6 (SeaMeWe-6) at a cost of $600 million. This cable will link Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, enhancing digital connectivity from Malaysia to France. It is expected to begin commercial operations in 2024.

Importance of Undersea Cables

Submarine fiber-optic cables are critical for connecting continents and providing high-speed internet connectivity worldwide. More than 95% of global intercontinental data traffic is carried over undersea cables. This is because they offer a larger bandwidth capacity, are more reliable, and are also more cost-effective than satellite communication.

Challenges for Network Architects

The emergence of China’s EMA cable will pose a significant challenge for network architects, who will have to adjust to the new network dynamics. It may be difficult for them to react to this new development because it has the potential to change the existing power dynamics of the global internet infrastructure.

Restrictions on Purchasing Space on the EMA Cable

There may be restrictions on purchasing space on the EMA cable in some countries due to concerns over national security. The use of equipment from Huawei (HWN), a Chinese tech company, has raised questions about the security of the connections. The United States and some countries have imposed bans on Huawei’s involvement in their 5G infrastructure, citing security concerns. As a result, some countries may be prohibited from purchasing space on the EMA due to these same concerns.

The Emergence of Multiple Internets

Some experts predict that multiple Internets led by separate world powers are likely to emerge as tensions rise between countries. The United States and China are the two leading players in this race and may eventually lead to a bifurcation of the global Internet. This could cause major disruptions in international commerce and basic functions, and would significantly impact the Internet’s future.

The Impact of U.S.-China Disengagement

Timothy Heath, a defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, a U.S.-based think tank, warns that the disengagement of both countries from each other in the information technology domain could have a severe impact on global commerce and basic functions. The more they disengage, the more difficult it becomes to carry out these necessary activities.

The importance of submarine fiber-optic cables in the evolving global internet landscape cannot be overstated. They offer more capacity than satellites and are more reliable, cost-effective, and faster. The race to control the global internet’s infrastructure is ongoing, and the tensions between China and the United States highlight the challenges the industry will face in the future. The emergence of multiple internets and the potential bifurcation of the global internet infrastructure could cause dramatic changes in the industry. It is essential to monitor developments in this industry closely as they significantly impact the future of digital connectivity.

Explore more