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China launches fiber optic Silk Road

July 6, 2015

Chinese president Xi Jinping has just launched the New Silk Road initiative, which will create a vast network of energy, transport and communication projects as well as boosting intraregional trade between China and its neighbors, The Diplomat reports.

Just as important as the railroad projects in terms of business and economic development are the planned improvements to the telecommunications structure, with fiber optic technology playing a major role.

With virtual cyberspace relying on physical infrastructure, it will be even easier to fit fiber optic cables along the rail lines that stretch along the Silk Road, benefiting the future Eurasian fiber optic backbones. This is expected to be of huge benefit to landlocked countries such as those in the Central Asian Republics, offering greater access to international data networks and increased bandwidth sizes.

Domestic networks are currently largely terrestrial, with underwater fiber optic cables bearing the greatest share of international data traffic—including the worlds' longest submarine cable, the SEA-ME-WE 3 system, measuring 39,000 km long.

Lying 8,000 meters beneath the surface, undersea cables are vulnerable to numerous disruptions, such as being dragged by ship anchors. Land-based digital highways can also be disrupted, but are easier to repair than those under the ocean. The fiber optic 'Silk Road' will boost the speed of data exchanges between Asia and Europe; something that telecommunications companies are now investing heavily in. There are also likely to be geopolitical motivations behind having an enhanced communications system, the article notes. With more countries concerned that data traffic travelling through US or European hubs is at greater risk of interception—a key motivation behind the Telebras cable that connects Brazil and Portugal without going through the US—China and Russia clearly feel that their communications will be safer travelling through cables in their own territories.

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