Animation: The Global Fiber Optic Network Explained
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The Global Fiber Optic Network Explained

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The Global Fiber Optic Network Explained

As we scroll through Instagram or cue up another episode on Netflix, most of us give little thought to the hidden network of fiber optic cables that instantaneously shuttle information around the globe.

This extensive network of cables – which could stretch around the Equator 30 times – is the connective tissue that binds the internet, and thanks to our insatiable appetite for video streaming, it’s growing larger with every passing year.

Today’s video, by TED-Ed, explains how fiber optic cables work and introduces the next generation of cables that could drastically increase the speed of data transmission.

A Series of Tubes

The late Senator Ted Stevens drew laughter for describing the internet as a “series of tubes” in 2006, but as it turns out, most of the information moving around the world does, in fact, travel through a series of tubes. Undersea fiber optic tubes, to be exact.

The way this system functions is deceptively simple. Light, which is beamed into a fiber optic cable at a shallow angle, ricochets its way along the tube at close to light speed until being converted back into an electrical signal at its destination – generally a data center. To increase bandwidth further, some cables are able to carry multiple wavelengths concurrently.

Impressively, this simple method of bouncing light through a tube is what moves 99% of the world’s digital information.

The Glass Superhighway

Since the first undersea fiber optic cable, TAT-8, was constructed by a consortium of companies in 1988, the number of cables snaking across the ocean floor has risen dramatically. In fact, over 100 new cables will have been laid between 2016 and 2020, with a value of nearly $14 billion.

global fiber optic subsea cable projects

Increasing bandwidth requirements have transformed content providers from customers to cable owners. As a result, tech giants like Google and Facebook are taking a more active role in the expansion of the global fiber optic network. Google alone has at least five cable projects set for completion in 2019.

The Last Mile

Much like Amazon struggles with the “last mile” of deliveries, the transmission of digital information is much less efficient at the data center level, where servers are connected by traditional electric cables. These short-range cables are far less efficient than their fiber optic counterparts, losing half their running power as heat.

If this inefficient use of energy isn’t solved, internet-related activity could comprise a fifth of the world’s power consumption by 2030.

Thankfully, a related technology – integrated photonics – could keep the high-definition videos of the future streaming. Although the silicon wires used in integrated photonics do not guide light as effectively as fiber optics, the ultra-thin wires are far more compact. Photonic chips paired with burgeoning terahertz (THz) wireless communications could eventually form the backbone of a 6G network. Short-range THz signals would hitch a ride on silicon wires via tiny photonic chips scattered around population centers.

Before this efficient, high-capacity future is realized, researchers must first solve the puzzle of manufacturing photonic devices at scale. Once this method of data transmission hits the mainstream market, it could drastically alter the course of both computing and global energy consumption.

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A Visual Breakdown of Global Music Consumption

How do people around the world consume their music, and how are these consumption habits changing as technology evolves?

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A Visual Breakdown of Global Music Consumption

To maximize any chance of success in the music business, aspiring artists must gain an understanding of how music is consumed and how that is changing alongside technology.

This graphic from Athul Alexander highlights global music consumption habits. Data is from 2022 and is sourced from a survey of over 44,000 people from 22 countries by IFPI that asked people their primary mode for consuming music.

As of 2022, paid subscription services (i.e. Apple Music, Spotify) are the most preferred option for listeners, accounting for nearly one-fourth of main platform share.

RankServiceShareExamples
1Paid Audio Streaming24%Spotify, Apple Music
2Video Streaming19%YouTube
3Radio17%
4Purchased Music10%Vinyls, CDs, purchased digital albums
5Ad-Supported Audio Streaming8%Amazon, Deezer
6Short-form Videos8%TikTok
7Social Media Videos5%Facebook, Instagram
8Live Music4%concerts, livestreams
9Other6%music on TV, phone-to-phone transfers

Short-form video platforms like TikTok, with an 8% share of primary music listeners, are a fast-growing medium. Several young artists have found initial success and traction using these platforms over the past few years.

And though video “killed the radio star,” it hasn’t killed listening to music on the radio. A healthy, 17% of respondents picked radio as their primary avenue for listening to music.

Streaming Supremacy and Virality

There’s no doubt that the internet has revolutionized how music is being consumed.

Including all video and music streaming, internet-based music consumption was the primary choice for 64% of respondents. That’s not even accounting for livestreams or music purchased through the internet.

PlatformShare
Internet-based64%
Non-Internet Based37%

This internet-heavy metric is being reflected on the business side as well, with 75% of the music industry’s revenues in the U.S. coming from streaming.

However, for artists, streaming revenue is usually the third-biggest earner after live performances and sales.

But utilizing streaming to its fullest potential keeps modern artists in the loop. For example, Beyoncé was one of the first artists to utilize streaming platforms to release an album completely unannounced in 2013, a marketing move that has been replicated many times since.

Where does this data come from?

Source: IFPI

Data note: IFPI surveyed over 44,000 people from 22 countries, asking them about their primary mode of consuming music. They exclude India and China from their global figures to prevent the size of the population from influencing the global weighted average. Percentages may also not add up to 100 because of rounded figures.

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