Analytics Deep Dive: How Advancements in Machine Learning and Ai Are Safeguarding the World’s Undersea Cables
More than 95 percent of internet traffic travels through a series of undersea cables. These massively long fiber optic lines connect every continent except Antarctica.
Undersea cables have become the world’s information superhighways that power economies and enable global communications. In the banking sector alone, they carry an average of $10 trillion in financial transfers every day. As demand for data doubles every two years, our reliance on submarine cables will also continue to increase. They are a critical resource that can cost millions to repair, so care must be taken to protect them.
A Damaged Undersea Cable Can Put Citizens at Risk
Figure 1: North Atlantic Undersea Cables. Source: CSIS and Telegeography
Today, there are over 400 active undersea cables worldwide, covering half a million miles. Because fiber optics are made from delicate strands of glass, these cables are built with many layers of protective coatings to help withstand the elements, but they are still vulnerable to damage, and breaks are somewhat common, with an average of 100 faults per year. A damaged cable can leave entire regions without internet until repairs can be made – which can take days, weeks, or even months – causing massive disruptions to daily life.
For example, in January of 2022 an underwater volcano erupted off the coast of Tonga. It set off a tsunami in the Pacific Ocean and caused a break in the island’s subsea cable about 23 miles offshore. With only limited satellite connectivity, most residents couldn’t let family and friends know that they were okay. After five weeks of repair efforts that required replacing 56 miles of damaged undersea cables, the main island finally has internet once again.
Cable Repairs Can Cost Millions
Fixing a broken undersea cable is not an easy task. To make repairs, cable operators first must locate the fault by sending a pulse of light through the fiber to see how far it travels before it bounces back at the break. Once the location is found, a repair ship must be sent to the site, which can take days or even weeks. According to the International Cable Protection Committee, there are only 59 operational cable laying and maintenance vessels to service the entire globe. When an available ship finally arrives, it sends down a submersible or a deep water hook to grab the cable and pull it up to the surface so the crew can make the repairs and restore connectivity.
Volcanos or other natural disasters aren’t the only culprits damaging undersea cables. Human behavior is the larger threat.
Fig. 2 – Reasons for Damage / source: Telegeography
Common Reasons for Damage to Undersea Cables:
- Fishing – Bottom trawling is where large nets are dragged across the ocean floor, and it’s one of the primary causes of damage to undersea cables.
- Anchorage – Boat anchors, either dropped or dragged along the bottom of the ocean, are a significant cause of damage.
- Sabotage – Bad actors have been known to intentionally damage cables or even attempt to intercept data by tapping into them.
- Natural Disasters / Abrasion – earthquakes, landslides, and undersea volcanoes can cause costly breaks.
Protect Your Undersea Assets with PRIDE
With no shortage of threats, risk assessment & prevention are key for avoiding costly subsea cable repairs and service disruptions. This is especially important for tech giants like Google, Facebook/Meta, Apple, and Microsoft, who have all invested billions in laying many of the world’s newest undersea cables.
With its strengths in machine learning and AI, TEOCO developed PRIDE, a cloud based, real-time maritime analytics solution designed for monitoring subsea cable threats. Fishing vessels and other maritime activities are tracked, analyzed, and flagged when potential issues are identified. The solution also analyzes data on seismic activity and energy dispersions to predict the likelihood of cable damage.
Using advanced analytics and AI/ML algorithms, PRIDE has been proven to:
- Decrease repair costs on undersea cable assets
- Dramatically reduce the risk of total cable failure
- Prevent loss of revenue and reputation due to service outages
Despite the world’s reliance on the internet, undersea cables are a vital resource that often get overlooked. But out of sight should not mean out of mind. Protecting these assets means protecting global economies, governments, and our way of life.