The submarine fiber optic cable network has long connected the world’s major business and financial hubs.  The high cost of building such cables meant that, for most of the industry’s history, they could only connect high-volume markets to be able to justify the investment.

For nearly the past decade, or since the market rebounded following the collapse in 2002, we all know this has changed.  Beginning in 2007, Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that only a couple of years earlier many experts had said would not be connected for decades, began to see its first international submarine fiber optic cable connections.  

Since then, the global fiber optic network has expanded beyond what anyone thought possible only a decade ago.  Sub-Saharan Africa now has multiple cable systems on both coasts, some small-market countries have redundant cable systems and more remote islands in the south and central Pacific are being connected each year.

The trend is not just seen in international cables.  In the early days of the industry, the only domestic cables that made financial sense were festoon networks along heavily populated coastlines – Italy and Malaysia being the primary examples.  Now, coastal networks are popping up all over the world and are extending out to more and more remote communities.  Just look at some of the announcements made this year.

Greenland is a case in point.  A decade ago, nobody would have predicted that the country of less than 60,000 people would have an international submarine cable connection by now, but in fact it has had one for five years.  Now the Arctic country is looking to extend the cable to communities long its coastline.  If the domestic extension is built, Greenland could have one cable landing for each 10,000 of its population – surely the highest ratio of cable stations to people in the world.

Meanwhile, another announcement came from Alaska, where a cable has been proposed to connect two communities with a combined permanent population of about 2,000 people (although that quintuples when cruise ships arrive).

At the other climate extreme, another recent proposal has a cable connecting remote communities along the Amazon River.  This cable would run nearly 8,000 kilometers.  It is not known yet how many people this would serve, as part of the Amazon are so remote nobody is really sure how many people live along its banks.

Connecting remote populations is a trend that will continue.  Governments and NGOs around the world are committed bringing reliable broadband Internet access to isolated populations as a basic human service, not to mention the benefits of applications such as e-learning, e-medicine, e-government and the economic development opportunities that broadband brings.