NEWINGTON Cyberspace doesn’t work in a vacuum.
Underwater cables as thick as garden hoses to the ocean floor are transmitting your Google emails and your search request for Hamilton to London.
And a 70-year-old factory not far from the Fox Run Mall has made enough of that fiber-optic cable over the past decade to reach the moon, 239,000 miles away.
SubCom, a growing company that employs 1,000 people on its 50-acre campus in Newington, counts Google among its clients. SubCom makes cables that can carry large amounts of data between continents to help run the world.
The Internet simply wouldn’t work without this stuff, said 34-year company veteran Bob Suydam, director of sales and project management, during a recent tour of manufacturing operations.
I’ve been here a long time and I still find it absolutely fascinating to come here and see what we do, really understand what it allows the world to do with regards to communications, he said.
SubCom operates 24/7 with four shifts of approximately 100 workers each in a building over half a million square feet.
Building a 60-mile-long cable takes about five days, and up to six days longer if layers of steel and nylon armor are added to bolster the cables’ protection against hazards such as anchors and near-shore fishermen.
At its core, the cable contains glass strands the diameter of a human hair, protected by steel, copper and an outer layer of plastic. Data is transmitted through the glass threads at the speed of light.
The cable is made in the same building where workers at what was then known as Simplex Wire & Cable began making coaxial cable in the 1950s for telephone communications. In the 1980s, SubCom installed the first transoceanic fiber system across the Atlantic.
Cable manufacturing in general hasn’t changed much, Suydam said. We just really had to beef it up technically to accommodate delicate fiber optic elements.
Today, SubCom is one of three key players that dominated the global submarine cables market in 2022, according to a report by Grand View Research, a provider of research reports and consulting services.
Around 98% of all internet traffic is carried around the world via undersea cables.
It’s basically the interstate system for the internet, said Jeremy Hitchcock, co-founder of Dyn, the Manchester-based internet performance management firm that rose to fame in the late 2000s.
Worldwide, some 870,000 miles of undersea cables were in service earlier this year, according to TeleGeography, a telecommunications market research and consultancy firm.
Content providers like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are major investors in the new cable, TeleGeography said.
Faced with the prospect of continued massive bandwidth growth, owning new submarine cables makes sense for these companies, he said.
Winning contracts is becoming a global competition.
The US and China are at war below the waves over Internet cables, a Reuters headline screeched in March.
SubCom’s recent $600 million cable deal, offering undersea links to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe, has become a trophy in a growing US-China proxy war over technologies which could determine who achieves economic and military dominance for decades to come, Reuters wrote.
SubCom officials didn’t want to discuss specific customers or the geopolitical impact of its business.
Google in public statements has acknowledged that SubCom has built at least four cables owned by the tech company.
A vast underwater network of cables spanning the ocean makes it possible to share, search, send and receive information around the world at lightning speed, Google said in an announcement about its partnership with SubCom.
Regarding cable ownership, SubCom said in an email: A large number of entities, from telecom operators to data service providers or Internet content providers, from governments to business owners, have vital interests in cable connectivity. submarines.
As capacity used by private network operators has surpassed that of Internet operators in recent years, there has been a large influx of new investment in submarine cables from the world’s busiest content providers, the company said.
Jeremy Hitchcock knows how to navigate the Internet
Dyn, the company he co-founded, helped move data traffic to the internet before the founders sold to Oracle in 2016.
Dyns’ secret sauce was figuring out how physical infrastructure like undersea and land-based cables connected different networks together and where the shortcuts and blockades existed, Hitchcock said in an email.
He said he figured some people had worked at both Dyn and SubCom over the years.
The average schedule for a submarine cable project is two to three years from start to finish, with the schedule influenced by regional weather cycles and permit acquisition times.
Cables are designed to last approximately 25 years, although some last longer.
Ships loaded with cables can deposit about 125 miles a day on the ocean floor. An electronic survey helps determine the path of the cables and the depth of the water and composition of the seabed, which protects the cable from fishing vessels and shallow anchors.
A marine plow pulled by a cable ship embeds the cable into the sea bed. A remote-controlled vehicle returns to inspect and cover the cable, according to the company.
Much like the way a field is plowed or plowed, there’s a blade on that plow that pushes into the ocean floor, Suydam said. The cable runs through the trench it creates and then naturally folds back and buries the cable as it goes.
The cable is typically under water to a depth of one mile, but depths can go as deep as 5.6 miles in some places.
Increase the signal
Cables need help carrying data at high speeds thousands of miles.
In a second building half the size of the cable manufacturing plant, other workers assemble the repeaters that protect the electronics.
This takes the optical signal and will strengthen and amplify it to cross the ocean, Suydam said.
If you take a flashlight, the light can only go so far. This is kind of what you’re doing with fibers. You’re injecting light into that fiber. It’s going to fade over time, so those amplifiers in those repeaters take that signal, give it enough force to get to the next repeater, which does the same thing.
He does it over and over and over until he gets to the other side of the ocean, Suydam said.
Over the past three years, SubComs’ workforce has grown by approximately 200 employees, to approximately 1,000.
I don’t think any particular area was cultivated, said Dan Sousa, managing director of production operations. I think it’s just a little bit at a time in each area.
The privately owned company does not disclose sales and profit figures.
Hiring has been challenging in recent years, Sousa said.
Finding job candidates has gotten easier over the past six months, according to the company.
Much of the company’s management team is a graduate of the nearby University of New Hampshire.
Last October, the New Hampshire Department of Military Affairs and Veterans Services, along with New Hampshire Employment Security, recognized SubCom as a gold company on behalf of New Hampshire veterans.
Many jobs there rely on efficiency, confidence, and quick decision-making—skills that many veterans possess and make them attractive to hire, according to the company.
The company’s increased hiring can be traced to more deals.
The internet is really the engine of all of this, streaming video, transferring data between financial institutions, just a huge amount of traffic, Suydam said.
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