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Google Funds New Brazil – U.S. Undersea Fiber Optic Cable

It's the company’s second investment undersea cable investment in just a few months

2 min read
Map of submarine cable route, Florida to South America.
The route of a proposed new submarine cable connecting Brazil and the United States
Map: iStockphoto

This week, Google announced its investment in a new undersea fiber optic cable connecting the United States and Brazil that will help ensure that its services continue to run smoothly in South America.

 The $60 million project, which will be capable of carrying up to 64 terabits of data per second, is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016. It also marks Google’s second investment in continent-connecting cables this year.

The new cable, which will be composed of six fiber pairs, will run from the Brazilian cities of Santos in the south of the country and Fortaleza in the north, to Boca Raton, Florida. It will ensure that traffic over Google’s internal networks between the United States and South America flows through lines the company owns, rather than using bandwidth it has to lease from other providers.

“The strength of building is you have your own dark fiber that’s allocated just to you,” Tim Stronge, vice president of research for the analysis firm Telegeography, tells IEEE Spectrum. “That means if you’re Google or a company like them, you can light that whenever you want, however you want.”

While owning its own cable is primarily a cost-saving measure for Google, Stronge says, it also helps the company maintain service to customers of products like Gmail in South America by making it easier for the company to mirror its U.S. data centers in in other locations. The difference may be tiny—taking around 50 milliseconds to retrieve data from a data center in Sao Paulo and 100 milliseconds to pull it off of a server in the U.S., for example—but when users expect their connections to be speedy and seamless, it doesn’t go unnoticed. “You can feel that when you’re using the Internet,” Stronge says.

As was the case with the FASTER cable announced earlier this year, which will run between Asia and the west coast of the United States, the search giant is partnering with a group of telecom firms to lay out the new cable. For the new U.S.-to-Brazil cable, Google’s partners are Brazil-based Algar Telecom, Uruguayan telecom company Antel, and Angola Cables, a collective of telecoms and ISPs in the African nation of Angola.

Angola Cables plans to connect the as-yet-unnamed cable to their South Atlantic Cable System, which is scheduled to connect Africa and Brazil via submarine fiber cables in 2016. A direct fiber optic connection to servers in the United States would be a major boon to the consortium.

“It could open the African market to U.S.-hosted content,” says Stronge. Without a direct connection to the United States, that prospect would be far less attractive. 

The newly announced cable is the third that will connect the United States to Brazil in coming years. AMX1, funded by Mexican telecommunications companies Telmex and America Movil, should be operational by the end of this year. Submarine cable specialists Seaborn Networks anticipate having their planned cable, Seabras-1, up and running by 2016, and Microsoft has already agreed to buy capacity on that cable to ensure the performance of their cloud computing platforms in South America. 

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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