The Physical Internet

Fiber Optic Cable Ship In August 2008, I had the pleasure to visit Greenland for the Konference Sarfarissoq in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. The conference was hosted by Tele-Post Greenland, and the focus was the impact of the submarine cable which would soon bring broadband Internet to Greenland. A traditional kayak enabled the symbolic landing. A month after my August visit, the Alcatel cable-laying ship arrived. It brought the trans-Atlantic fiber optic cable to Qaqortoq on Sept. 8th and then to Nuuk on the 11th. It was a milestone event and the citizens of both towns were understandably excited and proud. I am sure they were even more so when the cable got hooked up and the fiber was no longer dark.
Brian et al accepting the cableBrian Pedersen, then CEO of Tele-Post Greenland, Kaj Egede, the chairman, the mayor, and a cabinet minister received the cable at the shore. The new submarine cable will include four strands of glass, well protected in a multi-layer set of metal and petrol based materials to allow it to survive buried three feet below the bottom of the ocean — in some areas as deep as 10,000 feet below the surface. The four glass fibers will have a capacity of 2 terabits per second. Compared to what the country of Greenland has previously, this was a nearly infinite increase.
The cable is nearly 3,000 miles long and links Greenland to Canada and Iceland. Greenland previously connected to the internet via satellite with slow speeds and at times unreliable service. The fiber broadband link will open new opportunities for Greenland as a hub between North America and Europe. In addition to serving as an alternate route for digital traffic, Greenland’s central location may get the attention of companies building Cloud Computing datacenters. Perhaps the Arctic climate could help keep the servers cool.
Andrew Blum made an excellent speech at TED about how fiber optic cable is similarly being brought to Africa.  Andrew’s speech was fascinating to me as he described the physical aspects to the Internet. Many people are not aware of the physical aspect of the Internet. When you click a link on a web page, what happens? Where does the data come from and how does it get from there to your tablet or laptop? Andrew Blum has given this a lot of thought and wrote a book about it called Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. I added it to my reading list. 
Meanwhile, the WSJ reported this week that Foxconn, the contract manufacturer of iPhones for Apple, has upped their production of the new iPhone 5S to 500,000 per day.  Imagine that: 20,833 every hour, 347 per minute, an amazing 5.8 supercomputers every second.