Each year, a telecom market research firm called TeleGeography releases a map of the underwater cables that connect the global Internet. Past years’ maps have been merely fascinating. This year’s is flat-out gorgeous.
The lines trace the paths that the world’s data take every day as packets of information zip between the continents. They don’t precisely track the cables’ actual underwater routes—that would look like “a big mess of spaghetti,” TeleGeography research director Alan Mauldin says. And they don’t convey how much traffic flows through each one. But they do accurately show the land-based taking-off points for this massive underwater series of tubes.
At first glance, the lines appear to mirror long-proven global trade routes, with major hubs in global capitals like New York, Amsterdam, and Mumbai. But Mauldin notes that there have been no new cables across the Atlantic since 2003. The growth today is in historically under-served regions like Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Nor are all the hubs located in the big cities you’d expect. That phalanx of cables converging on Brazil, for instance, lands not in Sao Paolo or Rio de Janeiro but Fortaleza, simply because it’s an easier hop from the Northern Hemisphere. Another surprisingly popular destination is Djibouti, whose appeal becomes more clear when you consider the relative business-friendliness of its neighbors at the mouth of the Red Sea: Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen.
The firm collects the data for the map each year from the private companies that operate the cables, such as U.S.-based Level 3 and India’s Tata. This year’s edition includes 244 cable networks that are either already in service or scheduled for activation by 2014.
The skilled hands behind this year’s map were those of TeleoGeography’s Markus Krisetya and Larry Lairson,* and it was a labor of love. “He’s been wanting to do this for five years,” Mauldin said of Krisetya. “All of us love maps, and we thought it would be really cool to try to make something that would throw back to the antique style.” In a blog post, the company says it drew inspiration from sources like Maury’s New Complete Geography (Revised Edition), published in 1921, and The Timechart History of the World.
The map is available for free online in large and interactive formats—and yes, you can also by a print copy to frame and hang on your wall. But be warned that it’s priced like the work of art that it is: $250 a copy.
*Update, Feb. 1: This sentence was revised to clarify that Larry Lairson also played a key role in designing the map.