New Scientist reports fibre optics are coming to the Arctic. Construction on fibre-optic cables that will provide digital shortcuts between London and Tokyo will start in mid-August. Two cables will run through the North-West Passage above North America, while a third cable is planned along the Russian coast. The longest of these links will become world's longest single stretch of optical fibre.
Sea ice and icebergs pose unique challenges. Ships rated to work in ice-ridden waters are needed to lay the cable, and operations are possible for only a few months of the year. Yet there are advantages to laying cables in the Arctic, says Denis Tsesarenko, a director of the Polarnet Project, which is building the Russian Optical Trans-Arctic Submarine Cable System (ROTACS). Once laid, the cable should be largely safe from the biggest threats to cables in warmer waters: fishing trawlers and ships' anchors are extremely rare in the Arctic.
Meanwhile, a 15,600-kilometre link via the Canadian Arctic, to be built by Arctic Fibre of Toronto, Canada, will cut the present round-trip time, or "latency", between London and Tokyo from 230 milliseconds to 168 milliseconds, claims company president Doug Cunningham (see map). Reduced transmission time will be a boon for high-frequency traders who will gain crucial milliseconds on each automated trade. Optical amplifiers will boost signal strength every 50 to 100 kilometres. The firm also plans to drill a tunnel 40 metres deep to take a shortcut through the Boothia isthmus in the Canadian Arctic - a thin strip of land that connects the Boothia peninsula to the mainland. Isolated Arctic communities will also be connected by extra sections of cable that branch off from the main one.
A third project, by Arctic Link, a firm based in Anchorage, Alaska, is planned to begin in 2014.