A Short History of Submarine
The story really
began in 1795 when a Spaniard named Salva suggested the idea of underwater telegraphic
communication. But nothing significant happened until 1850 when a single wire cable
manufactured by the Gutta Percha Company was laid between England and France.
International telecommunications had started.
first cable did not last very long - on the night after it was connected a French
fisherman caught the cable and cut a length out of it. A heavier armoured cable with four
conductors was successfully laid the following year. For the first time two countries
separated by sea were able to communicate by means of the electric telegraph.
A boom in the
laying of submarine cables followed. Many cables were placed in service across the Irish
Sea, the North Sea, the Mediterranean and even the Black Sea.
Then came the
greatest challenge - the laying of the first trans-Atlantic cable. It is hard now to
realise just what an enormous task this was. The 2,500 miles (4025km) of cable took a
total of 20,500 miles (33,000km) of copper wire for the conductor, and the outer sheathing
took 367,000 miles (590,500km) of iron wire. The total length of wire used was enough to
go round the world thirteen times.
The cable was
loaded into two specially converted warships, one British and one American. Laying from
the USS Niagara, steaming west from Ireland lasted only a few days. After 300 miles
(482km) the cable snapped.
A second attempt
with laying commencing in mid-Atlantic suffered the same fate. But on the third attempt,
despite some very rough weather, luck - and the cable - held, and in August, 1858 the Old
World and the New were joined telegraphically if only for a short time. The cable failed
on September 1, and it was not until July, 1866, that the first really successful Atlantic
cable was laid by the S.S. Great Eastern.
News which had previously taken up to six months to reach distant parts of the world could
now be relayed in a matter of hours, In 1902 the "All Red" route was completed.
This consisted of
a series of cable links across the Pacific Ocean, connecting New Zealand and Australia
with Vancouver and through the Trans-Canada and Atlantic lines to Europe.
messages sent over the cable were high. An ordinary message from Australia or New Zealand
to England cost 15 shillings a word; newspaper messages three shillings and eleven pence a
word. As a result the cable news section of newspapers seldom reached half a column and in
some cases was so scanty as to be barely intelligible.
telegraph cables remained the only fast means of international communication for 75 years.
Then, in the 1920s came the dramatic impact of radio. Shortwave, high frequency radio
could transmit voices or pictures. International telex was also made possible by radio.
For 30 years radio carried all the world's conversations and most of its messages. But the
weaknesses of radio soon became apparent. Its capacity was too limited, conversations were
often difficult, and certain atmospheric conditions could disrupt radio communications for
days at a time.
communication system had to be found, combining the dependability of submarine cable and
the diversity of radio. The break-through came with two new technical developments. First,
in the 1940s, came the submersible repeater which made trans-oceanic speech transmission
possible. Until its development engineers did not have any means of overcoming the loss of
signal strength over long cables.
In 1956 the first
submarine cable incorporating repeaters came into operation across the Atlantic. With a
capacity of 36 two-way voice channels, each capable of subdivision into a number of
telegraph channels, TAT-1 as it was called, demonstrated the great potential of this new
form of telecommunications and triggered an explosion in public demand for international
teams working for the British Post Office in the 1950s developed the modern lightweight
coaxial cable which had a high-tensile steel core and a Polythene outer skin and did not
need to be armoured in deep water. This cable, instead of using a number of wires grouped
together consisted basically of an inner and an outer concentric conductor which carried
the electrical speech signals.
Then came a vast
new concept - a high quality global submarine cable network linking the nations of the
Commonwealth. By December 1961, the first link, CANTAT-1 providing 80 two-way voice
circuits had been opened between Britain and Canada, and by July 1 962 Australia and New
Zealand were in communication through the first stage of the second link, COMPAC. In
December of the same year the second stage from Auckland to Fiji was opened. The laying of
the final stages, Fiji to Hawaii and Hawaii to Canada soon followed and the completed
COMPAC cable was opened on December 3, 1963.
Although these new
telecommunications systems were created to satisfy a demand, they in turn created heavier
demands and a vast network of cables has been laid beneath the seas of the world.
In 1975 the 480
circuit TASMAN Cable was completed to Australia. ANZCAN Cable, which replaced COMPAC
Cable, was the last of the Pacific Ocean analogue cables to be installed to Australia.
A-I-S Cable which lands at Perth, WA is of the same design as ANZCAN Cable and was the
last of Telstra's analogue cables to be installed. All cables installed since A-I-S have
been of fibre optic design.
Copyright © 1997, 1998 Telstra
Last modified: 28th September, 1998