Speedy Underwater Data Cable Linking Spain, Virginia Coasts Is Complete

The data cable named Marea, Spanish for “tide,” will be capable of sending 160 terabits of data per second or 16 million times faster than the average home Internet connection.

by Kimberly Pierceall, The Virginian-Pilot / September 22, 2017
Final installation of the Marea cable on shore. RUN Studios via Microsoft

(TNS) — Only one thing might bring the president of Microsoft, a Facebook executive, two U.S. senators, Virginia’s governor and the mayor of Virginia Beach to the same room.

Each has high hopes for a new super-fast underwater data cable named Marea linking the coasts of Spain and Hampton Roads.

The executives and government leaders met Friday morning in Williamsburg to celebrate the cable project’s completion as part of an annual United States-Spain Council Forum this weekend at the Kingsmill Resort.

As the world does more of its living online with an insatiable appetite for streaming movies, sharing files, downloading photos and posting to profile pages, the need for even more undersea cables to criss-cross the oceans, whipping data from one place to the other, has grown.

Marea, Spanish for “tide,” will be capable of sending 160 terabits of data per second or 16 million times faster than the average home internet connection, according to Microsoft. Its arrival makes it the first undersea cable to land in Virginia Beach.

For civic leaders, the cable offers the possibility of attracting a new kind of industry to a Hampton Roads economy that has long relied on military spending or tourism and the chance to market itself as a “digital port” to companies interested in developing data centers. It’s even being used as a carrot to attract Internet giant Amazon as it looks to pick a home for a second headquarters.

For Microsoft and Facebook, the first transatlantic cable to land in Virginia Beach gives the companies one more way to transmit gobs of data while offering a fail-safe in case anything goes wrong with other sub-sea links clustered around landing points in New York, New Jersey and Florida.

“Everyone expects that whenever they turn on their computer or their tablet or their phone, they’re going to work. That’s what this cable is going to help enable,” said Frank Rey, Microsoft’s director of global network strategy for its Cloud Infrastructure and Operations division, in a company blog post.

Hurricane Sandy made that need abundantly clear. The 2012 superstorm flooded buildings and destroyed homes, but also left areas without Internet or phone service. Websites were down, servers were knocked out, electronic trading was rattled.

“It was a major disruption,” Rey said, who was with family in New Jersey during the storm and couldn’t reach relatives in Europe to let them know he was safe. “The entire network between North America and Europe was isolated for a number of hours.” It turned out Facebook was equally concerned about vulnerabilities and so the two partnered to bring a cable from Europe to somewhere else on the coast to “safeguard against natural disasters or other major events disrupting connectivity across the Atlantic,” the company explained.

Why Virginia Beach? Because it was close to Northern Virginia’s data centers, home to much of the world’s Internet traffic, the company said.

Virginia Beach already is claiming at least one company, Barcelona-based Sanjo Corte Fino, invested $17.5 million in a new metal-stamping factory there because of the cable.

In Microsoft’s blog post, Sanjo’s vice president Santiago Cruz Jr. said, “having good, high-speed communications allows us to have the two (sites) communicating at any time.”

But a 2016 Pilot story detailing the company’s arrival said it was the city’s climate, $1 million in financial incentives and nearness to the port and a longtime Virginia Beach-based customer in Stihl Inc. that made Sanjo’s decision easier after three years of negotiations.

©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.