Charting the Depths: The World of Subsea Cables
Data may be stored in the “cloud,” but when it comes to sending and receiving data, a lot of that action is actually happening along the depths of the ocean floor.
Hidden beneath the waves, these subsea cables account for approximately 95% of international data transmission.
These maps, by Adam Symington, use information from TeleGeography to show the distribution of subsea cables around the planet.
Wired for Connectivity
It’s estimated that there are nearly 1.4 million kilometers (0.9 million miles) of submarine cables in service globally. They ensure emails, content, and calls find their way, linking colossal data centers and facilitating worldwide communication.
Currently, there are 552 active and planned submarine cables:
Submarine cables harness fiber-optic technology, transmitting information via rapid light pulses through glass fibers. These fibers, thinner than human hair, are protected by plastic or even steel wire layers.
Cables usually have the diameter of a garden hose, but often with added armor near the shore. Coastal cables are buried under the seabed, hidden from view on the beach, while deep-sea ones rest on the ocean floor.
Length varies widely, from the 131-kilometer CeltixConnect cable, connecting Dublin, Ireland, and Holyhead, UK, to the sprawling 20,000-kilometer Asia America Gateway cable, connecting San Luis Obispo, California, to Hawaii and Southeast Asia:
With the current technology, cables are designed to last 25 years at least but are often replaced because of damage. Nearly two-thirds of cable damage is caused by fishing vessels and ships dragging anchors.
The Bottom Line
Traditionally dominated by telecom carriers, the makeup of the subsea cable market has shifted over more recent decades. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon now heavily invest in new cables.
With data demand surging, at least $10 billion is expected to be invested in subsea cables worldwide between 2022 and 2024, driven by cloud service providers and content streaming platforms.
Even with the growth of satellites in telecom, cables still can carry far more data at a much lower cost than satellites. In fact, according to TeleGeography, satellites account for less than 1% of all U.S. international capacity.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Ranked: The World’s Top 10 Electronics Exporters (2000-2021)
Here are the largest electronics exporters by country, highlighting how electronics trade has increasingly shifted to Asia over 20 years.
Top 10 Electronics Exporters in the World (2000-2021)
From personal computers to memory chips, the electronics trade plays a vital role in the world economy. In 2021, global electronics exports reached $4.1 trillion according to McKinsey Global Institute.
This graphic shows the 10 largest electronics exporters in the world, based on data from McKinsey, and how they’ve changed since 2000.
Ranked: The Top 10 Exporters of Electronics
Which countries are the leading exporters of electronics, and how has this shifted over the last two decades?
|Rank||Country||Share of Total 2021||Share of Total 2000|
|3||🇰🇷 South Korea||7%||5%|
|7||🇺🇸 United States||4%||16%|
We can see in the above table how global electronics trade has become more concentrated in Asia, specifically China and Taiwan. As an electronics powerhouse, 34% of the world’s electronic goods in 2021 came from China, representing $1.4 trillion in value.
Home to leading firms like TSMC, Taiwan also plays a major role due to its prowess in semiconductor manufacturing—highlighting the island’s global importance.
But not all of Asia has been thriving. In 2000, Japan was a global electronics powerhouse responsible for 13% of the industry’s exports, but has seen its share shrink to 4% in 2021. The U.S. has also sheen its electronics lead shrink, with exports down from 16% of the global total in 2000 to just 4% in 2021.
Several factors have driven this shift. Instead of manufacturing electronics domestically, the U.S. has outsourced technology to countries where manufacturing, production, and labor costs are lower. However, recently, the U.S. is focusing on reshoring semiconductor production specifically given its role in national security, as seen through the $52.7 billion CHIPS Act.
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