The two internet giants are joining forces to build a fast internet cable from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Their appetite for bandwidth is growing - but could the project mark warming ties with China?
Google and Facebook on Wednesday announced plans for a new high-capacity internet cable across the Pacific.
The Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) will be the first direct connection of its kind between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. The 12,800-kilometer fiber optic cable will be able to transfer 120 terabytes of data per second, making it the fastest trans-Pacific cable, Google said.
The internet giant said that would be enough capacity to enable 80 million high-definition video conference calls simultaneously - doubling the rate of the quickest existing cable, Google's Faster Cable System, which went online earlier this year.
"PLCN will be among the lowest-latency fiber optic routes between Hong Kong and the US and the first to connect directly using ultra-high-capacity transmission,” PLDC Chairman Wei Junkang said.
Apart from increasing capacity, the new cable provides a direct link from the US to China. Most existing trans-Pacific cables pass through Japan.
A new approach
The cable could point to a more pragmatic relationship between rivals Google and Facebook - as well as between both companies and the Chinese government. Facebook is unhappy that it is blocked in mainland China, and Google, which has battled China's censorship regime, has only a modest market share there, with some of its services also blocked.
Whatever their political motivation, the two companies, along with Microsoft, have been investing heavily in laying cables to add bandwidth for their cloud computing services.
Microsoft and Facebook early this year teamed together to lay a high-speed internet cable across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Thy said the cable, known as MAREA, would have a capacity of 160 terabytes per second of data.
Google said the new Pacific cable is being built with the aim of further expanding its capacity as technology improves.
"From the get-go, PLCN is designed to accommodate evolving infrastructure technology, allowing us to independently choose network equipment and refresh optical technology as it advances," it said, adding that it would improve service to Google's Asia-Pacific users.
Google and Facebook are working with a Hong Kong company, Pacific Light Data Communication Company, which was established in 2014 as planning for the cable began. Undersea communications technology firm TE SubCom, owned by Swiss company TE Communications, is the other partner.
Fiber has been experiencing rapid growth in recent years. A previous cable-laying boom ground to a halt 15 years ago when demand for data failed to grow as expected, while data transmission technology quickly allowed existing fiber-optic lines to carry an exponentially larger amount of bits and bytes. At one point, it was estimated that fiber-optic lines in the US were running at only 3 percent of capacity.