According to Greenpeace, if the Internet were a country, it would be the third largest consumer of energy in the world after the United States and China. Because the web needs colossal infrastructures to function: submarine cables, data centers and servers by the millions.
Above all, the Internet is a story of endless cables and vast buildings filled with fibers and servers. From the cable ship depositing fibre at the bottom of the oceans to the data centre hosting our data, the Digital offers a visible and palpable but too often overlooked face. This report from France Culture takes you on a journey of discovery of these essential building blocks without which the Internet would not exist.
99% of intercontinental communications pass through submarine cables. The remaining 1% travels by satellite, as this technology is much more expensive and much slower in terms of throughput. But to install these huge cables, you need very special boats: cable-layers. Built around large tanks storing optical fibre, these vessels are rather rare. Indeed, there are only about forty of them in the world.
The backbone of our connected society: submarine cable is an expensive and sophisticated technology that is mastered by few players in the world. The market is dominated by three companies in 2019: the American Subcom, the Japanese Nec and the French Alcatel Submarine Network (ASN), owned by the Finnish Nokia since 2016. But to invest in the submarine Internet cable, count a few tens of millions of euros for a small regional cable and up to several hundred million euros for a transpacific or transatlantic link. Dominated by the States in the 19th century when communication was carried out in Morse code, cable laying then became the business of national telecom operators, but the GAFAMs have taken over in recent years.
Another essential component of the Internet is the data centre. These large buildings house servers and computer equipment that allow us to access our data. The geography of data centers covers the geography of economic capitals: London, Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid, etc. But sometimes, hosters act on other criteria; thus Marseille has become one of the most important cities in the world in this field.
"Over the past five years, Marseille has become one of the main hubs for content exchange in the world. The city is now the 10ᵉ global hub for network concentration and data exchange [...] there is a geographical advantage thanks to the 14 submarine cables that land here and allow data to be transmitted all around the Mediterranean but also to the Middle East and Asia" Fabrice Coquio, President of Interxion France.
To transmit all this data to our computers and telephones, the Internet also relies on 600 exchange points around the world, some twenty in France, including France IX.
"[...] France IX was created about ten years ago to structure the French Internet. The aim was for the major operators to be able to exchange information with each other on "motorways" while avoiding congestion. All these players are connecting to our infrastructures in order to have the fastest route" Franck Simon, President of France IX.
Faced with the monopoly of the giants of Silicon Valley, can the salvation of Europe - and France - come from all these actors? "It's true that we have some nice leftovers. We still had a large telecom industry, a large components industry. On a personal level and with my 25 years of experience in the digital world, perhaps we should leave from industries where we are still strong, with great traditions. We are good at the Internet of Things, home automation, design, etc. If we want to fight back, we have to find strategic high points, and it does not consist in making one against Google, one against Facebook or one against Netflix... We can do it if we want, but we will probably have to invent our own path with our own genius. It will also be necessary to create a unified European market for digital technology and to find new financing strategies; the BPI (Public Investment Bank) has changed the situation a little, but it is not yet enough" Henri Verdier, Digital Ambassador.
Source : France Culture