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.
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.
The 50 Biggest Video Game Franchises by Total Revenue
Video games generate billions in revenue every year. Where the majority of this revenue comes from, however, may be surprising to you.
The 50 Biggest Video Game Franchises by Total Revenue
When the world’s first video game, Tennis for Two, was revealed at a science fair in 1958, people were fascinated—there was clearly something special.
Since these humble beginnings, video games have rode waves of technological advancements to burgeon into a $100+ billion industry. To visualize this success, today’s infographic from TitleMax lists the top 50 highest-grossing video games franchises.
While this feat is impressive on its own, the way many of these franchises generate their revenue may come as a shock.
How Do Video Games Generate Billions?
Video games first saw large-scale commercial success in the 1980s, in what some describe as the “golden age of arcade games”. As arcades popped up across America, renowned classics like Pac-man and Space Invaders raked in large sums of money, one coin at a time.
Today, there are two revenue models generally followed by video game publishers—the traditional pay-to-play (P2P) model, and the newer free-to-play (F2P) model.
For much of the industry’s modern history, P2P models have been the default option. A developer incurs costs to produce its games, so it sells them to consumers to recover costs and make a profit.
Under a F2P model, however, the developer essentially distributes its games for free. Players don’t have to pay anything if they don’t want to, and the developer runs the risk that it may never recoup its costs.
So why would a developer ever choose a F2P model? Let’s look at industry data from 2019:
|Platform||Free-to-play (F2P) Revenue||Pay-to-play (P2P) Revenue|
Those aren’t typos. F2P games accounted for a whopping 82% of industry revenue in 2019. What’s more, is that this gap continues to grow: since the previous year, F2P revenue grew 6%, while P2P revenue fell by 5%.
The Power of Discretionary Spending
There’s a number of F2P franchises listed in today’s graphic which have grossed well over a billion dollars in total revenue.
|#15||League of Legends||Riot Games¹||PC||$8.4B|
|#21||Arena of Valor||Tencent||Mobile||$6.4B|
|#23||Clash of Clans||Supercell²||Mobile||$6.0B|
|#27||Candy Crush Saga||King³||Mobile||$4.9B|
|#46||Fortnite||Epic Games⁴||Console, Mobile, PC||$2.5B|
¹wholly-owned subsidiary of Tencent, ²majority-owned subsidiary of Tencent, ³wholly-owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, ⁴Tencent owns a 40% stake.
Because these types of games are often published for PC or mobile phone (most people have at least one of these), their accessibility becomes a key advantage. This is especially true in China, where video game consoles like Xbox have been banned in the past.
Yet, simply amassing a large player base isn’t enough. With no money being paid upfront, developers must create compelling incentives for players to willingly part with their cash.
League of Legends
League of Legends, one of the world’s most popular video games, is widely considered a successful pioneer in this regard.
When developer Riot Games chose a F2P model for its game, it took a gamble. The model was largely unproven for titles of its genre, and it’s main source of revenue was set to be the sale of purely cosmetic items called “character skins”.
Nobody would have tried Legends if we put a price point in front of it because the game is tough to sell
—Marc Merrill, Co-founder of Riot Games
Part of the game’s incentive to spend comes from its longevity—League of Legends has just entered its 11th year. Rather than release a new title, the developer makes continuous improvements to the existing game, with each iteration dubbed as a new “season”.
If a traditional P2P game represents a movie, League of Legends could then be considered a long-running TV show. For example, while there’s been one League of Legends since 2009, there’s been 11 Call of Duty titles over that same time frame.
Joining the Party
Some of the world’s most successful video game franchises, which have historically published games under the P2P model, are also expanding into free games with great success.
For Pokémon (#1 in gross revenue), product diversification is nothing new. While the franchise manages a universe of offerings from physical merchandise to movies, its free mobile augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go, may be one of its most successful endeavors.
The game, which leads players out into the real world to catch virtual monsters, was a massive sensation when it launched in 2016. In fact, it was so popular (and distracting) it’s been estimated to have contributed to more than 100,000 car accidents.
Four years since its release, Pokémon Go is a shining example of what the F2P model can achieve—the game has racked up over 1 billion downloads and generated an incredible $3 billion in revenues.
|Year||Gross Revenue||% Change|
Source: Sensor Tower Store Intelligence
Part of Pokémon Go’s incentive to spend comes from its incredibly unique social experience—it
turns real world landmarks into hubs where players can gather. By simply leveraging the capabilities of existing smartphones, it’s also extremely accessible.
Is Free the New Norm?
As more and more franchises successfully expand into free games, it’s clear that the F2P model will be the primary driver of future growth. The relatively higher accessibility of F2P games is also crucial to tap into the quickly growing esports industry.
However, traditional P2P games, which are now being called “premium games”, still have some merit to them. These games are often associated with a higher level of quality which people are happy to pay for.
Yet, as the legitimacy and success of the F2P model continues to develop, this quality gap could also shrink in the future.
Editor’s note: The revenue figures in today’s infographic include merchandise and other related products.
Infection Trajectory: See Which Countries are Flattening Their COVID-19 Curve
The number of COVID-19 cases around the world continues to grow, but each country has a different infection trajectory. This chart tells the story.
At the outset of 2020, the world looked on as China grappled with an outbreak that seemed be spiraling out of control.
Two months later, the situation is markedly different. After aggressive testing and quarantine efforts, China’s outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) appears to be leveling off.
Now, numerous countries around the world are in the beginning stages of managing their own outbreaks. March 15th, 2020, marked a significant statistical milestone for this, as confirmed cases of COVID-19 outside of China surpassed the Chinese total.
The tracker above, by Our World in Data, charts the trajectory of the growing number of countries with more than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19. As the number of new infections reported around the world continues to grow, which countries are winning the battle against COVID-19, and which are still struggling to slow the rate of infection?
What’s Your National Infection Trajectory?
As of publishing time, 39 countries have passed the threshold of 100 confirmed cases, with many more countries on the cusp. By comparing infection trajectories from the 100 case mark, we’re able to see a clearer picture of how quickly the virus is spreading within various countries.
A rapid “doubling rate” can spell big trouble, as even countries with advanced healthcare systems can become overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases. This was the case in the Lombardy region of Italy, where hospitals were overloaded and an increasing number of medical staff are under quarantine after testing positive for the virus. Nearly 10% of COVID-19 patients in Lombardy required intensive care, which stretched resources to their breaking point.
Other countries are looking to avoid this situation by “flattening the curve” of the pandemic. In other words, preventing and delaying the spread of the virus so that large portions of the population aren’t sick at the same time.
Original concept by Drew Harris
While all the countries on this tracker are united behind a common goal – stamping out COVID-19 as soon as possible – each country has its own approach and unique challenges when it comes to keeping their population safe. Of course, countries that are just beginning to experience exponential growth in case numbers have the benefit of learning from mistakes made elsewhere, and adopting ideas that are proving successful at slowing the rate of infection.
Many jurisdictions are implementing some or all of these measures to help flatten the curve:
- Encouraging social distancing
- Encouraging working from home
- Closing schools and other institutions
- Placing hard limits on the size of crowds at events
The following chart explains why this last measure is critical to limiting the spread of the virus.
In scenario B above, which assumes just 20,000 active cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., there’s nearly a 50% chance an infected person will be attending a 10,000 person conference or sporting event. This is precisely the reason why temporary limits on crowd size are popping up in many jurisdictions around the world.
Direct losses due to canceled tech conferences alone, such as SXSW and the Electronic Entertainment Expo, have already surpassed the $1 billion mark, but despite the short-term economic pain of cancellations and decreased entertainment spending, the costs of business-as-usual could be incalculable.
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