The specter of the lack of transatlantic submarine cables threatens the Internet in Europe

Les géants américains du Net détiennent déjà environ 80% de la capacité globale des câbles sous-marins sur l

It is a warning sign. In a recent study, Terabit Consulting did an interesting forecasting exercise. Its analysts have evaluated the level of data exchange between the American continent – that is, essentially the United States – and Europe in the coming years. The result is surprising to say the least. In 2030, the demand for bandwidth will be 13.1 petabits per second. The problem is that the transatlantic submarine cables dedicated to telecommunications will only be able, on that date, to absorb 4.7 petabits per second. Clearly, if no new infrastructure projects see the light of day by then, 8.4 petabits per second of capacity will be missing to properly transmit data between the two continents. It’s huge.

(Credits: Terabit Consulting)

This conclusion goes against certain received ideas. One would have thought that the proliferation of submarine cables between the United States and Europe in recent years would solve capacity problems once and for all. They’re not here. The continuous growth of data exchanges between the country of Uncle Sam and the Old Continent continues at full speed. Europe, often described as the “digital colony” of the United States, is still powered by the services of Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple. We understand better, with the Terabit study, why the Gafa have invested so much in fiber optic megacables to connect their data centers on both sides of the Atlantic…

Regardless, one thing is certain: we will have to deploy new arteries on the ocean floor to absorb this traffic. “In the state of the art, this corresponds to approximately 17 new cables”Jean-Luc Vuillemin, director of international networks at Orange, said on Twitter. Suffice it to say an Everest, the cost of which is also staggering. “Approximately, and based on 250 million euros for each new cable – equipped with 24 pairs of fiber optics with current technology – this represents an investment of 4,250 million euros”continues the leader of the incumbent operator, the only one in France that invests directly in submarine cables.

Who, therefore, will get their hands on the wallet? In the past, telecommunications operators were the main investors in submarine cables. This period has ended. Now the American Internet giants are the first to implement these infrastructures, which are essential for the sustainability of their business. Now they have approximately 80% of the capacity in this great strategic axis, the Atlantic. Jean-Luc Vuillemin has no illusions: he believes that he will once again be the Gafa who will do it “start the construction of new cables, which will increase European dependence in this area”.

An important issue of digital sovereignty

The submarine cables are, in fact, a great challenge for the digital sovereignty of the Old Continent. Europeans, whose data is mostly stored in the United States, urgently need it. If the wealthy Gafa continue to invest in these fiber-optic highways under the Atlantic, Europe risks further increasing its reliance on infrastructure owned by US private players.

The subject is sensitive. But strangely, it seems off the radar of politicians. Bruno Le Maire, Minister for the Economy, inaugurated the new OVHCloud data center in Strasbourg on Monday. He started a plea for the sovereignty of France and Europe in digital matters. “If we want to be sovereign, we must not allow our data to be stolen”, he launched, insisting that the government wanted to actively support the French cloud ecosystem. But he didn’t say a word about US dominance of submarine networks, Europe’s digital umbilical cord.