Facebook is working on the first-ever 24-pair transatlantic submarine cable system that will connect Europe and the United States with half-petabits per second – roughly half a million gigabits. The company also announced its Terragraph technology, which creates mmWave mesh to solve last-mile connectivity issues.
The company has not released details on when the submarine cable will go into service.
However, the Facebook connectivity team has shared more details on the 2Africa Pearls submarine cable that was announced earlier this year. The Africa cable will connect Africa with Asia and Europe, landing in 46 cities in 33 countries.
“We even designed floating power plants that sit in the middle of the ocean, harnessing energy from the sun and waves, transporting it through cables on the ocean floor, which allows us to increase their capacity,” said Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer. during a press briefing.
“Together with our partners, we are building over 150,000 km of submarine cables and applying new technologies that will significantly improve the throughput and performance of these cables. This will have a serious impact on underserved regions of the world, especially in Africa, where our work should triple, triple Internet bandwidth, reaching the continent, ”explained Dan Rabinowitz, vice president of Facebook Connectivity.
The company built a predictive model to help them predict where submarine cable routes should be laid to ensure high network availability. “Each route is investigated for local hazards associated with fishing, underwater volcanoes, and more,” explained Cynthia Perret, Program Manager for Submarine Cables on Facebook.
Perret noted that very often the capacity of a submarine cable is limited by the amount of electricity it can get through the booster boxes, and this usually comes from shore. “We are exploring an environmentally friendly way to do this using a combination of wave converters and solar panels. The goal is to continuously generate up to 25 kilowatts of power to feed two submarine cables to different points in the middle of the ocean, ”she said, although the technology is still being tested.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s Terragraph technology is trying to solve the last-mile connectivity issue, especially in areas where it might not be possible to run fiber to every home. It is already in use in Anchorage, Alaska, and Perth, Australia. Terragraph is used in Alaska by Alaska Communications, where deploying fiber is much more difficult given environmental conditions.
It is a transmitter that mounts on street signs and light poles and delivers multi-gigabit wireless performance. Yael Maguire, vice president of engineering at Facebook, explained that Terragraph was like “extending fiber in the air,” and it builds on “existing fiber points by increasing their bandwidth.”
Terragraph boxes act as a kind of mesh network, and Facebook says it has worked with a number of partners to build it, including Qualcomm. It uses mmWave technology in the 60 Hz spectrum. Facebook also undertook stress testing at its Menlo Park headquarters before deploying a technology prototype.
“We licensed Terragraph for free to vendors, and five of them are now selling their products with Terragraph support. These partners have shipped over 30,000 Terragraph devices to more than 100 service providers, ”explained Maguire.
Facebook claims Terragraph is designed to work in extreme conditions, whether it’s rain, snow, wind, or heat. It can also withstand temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees C to 55 degrees. It is touted as a multipoint solution that can carry the network to multiple points even with minor obstacles and helps create reliable, high-speed connections for nearby homes and businesses.
Facebook also wants to solve the problem of fiber-optic cabling faster. The solution is a robot called Bombyx that moves along existing power lines and runs fiber optic cables directly on top of them. Bombyx can help reduce the cost of fiber deployment. The company worked with leading plastics experts to develop a special fiber cladding material that would help it withstand the high temperatures of the power line.
He also claims that their fiber optic cable is 10 times lighter and smaller than conventional aerial fiber, and three times smaller than the cable used in traditional deployments.
As for the Bombyx, it has been designed to withstand line voltages between 10,000 and 35,000 volts. “To deal with this, we had to design special circuits and enclosures,” explained Kartik Yogeswaran, a wireless systems engineer at Facebook. He pointed out that the robot must also overcome obstacles on power lines and, as it were, walk along a rope, laying fibers.
“Our solution here was to use thruster fans similar to those used in drones. The control algorithm that ensures the stability of the robot turned out to be much more difficult than we expected. The robot is hanging on a curve, so the front and back of the robot experience different vibrations, which further complicates the task. Each movement causes vibration and changes the center of gravity of the robot. The control algorithm should compensate for this by adjusting the speed of all thrusters so that the robot remains upright while preventing the cable from swinging, ”he said.
To overcome obstacles, the robot will use a three-dimensional map of the world, created using a built-in stereo camera. Bombyx is still in the prototype stage, although Facebook is starting talks with several utilities.