Microsoft and Facebook have teamed up to lay a 6,600km underwater cable connecting the US and Europe.

This new project – the latest in a series of ventures where technology providers have moved into the telecoms space – will see a cable running between Virginia in the US and Bilbao in Spain. Named MAREA (Spanish for ‘tide’), the cable will provide up to 160 terabits per second of bandwidth – around 16 million times the bandwidth of a typical home broadband connection.

Managing their own infrastructure

By taking on such telecoms projects, these tech giants can deploy and manage their own infrastructure, rather than relying on that offered by third parties. Google has already taken steps in this arena, with cables stretching from the US to both Brazil and Japan. It also operates smaller cables in a network running across much of Asia. Laying such cables is not just a strong show of intent but also illustrates just how much valuable data these tech firms have to transport.

Facebook’s data volumes don’t just include its giant social network, of course, but its immensely popular Messenger App, as well as WhatsApp, which it acquired in 2014.

Providing for future expansion

The key to this development is its location in Virginia. Many trans-Atlantic cables are already in operation, though they operate out of New York. By moving this to Virginia, however, there will be lower latency, which would ultimately provide a better quality service. On the other side, connecting to Bilbao doesn’t just provide better connectivity to Spain but also the wider EU and even parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It’s no coincidence that Project MAREA comes at a time when Facebook is looking to branch out from its US and European strongholds (where it has market saturation) and into huge, new, largely untapped areas.

Anyone who has installed dado trunking, crawled through roof voids or pulled category 6 cabling through a false ceiling will appreciate that the USA to Europe will constitute quite a cabling job. These projects don’t always involve laying brand new cables, though. In order to mitigate expense, some companies are buying up so-called ‘dark fiber’ – unused terrestrial cables that are already in place.