Friday, January 6, 2012

Mining dark fiber

Something about this story in Information Age seems "off" to me.

The story, entitled Mining dark fibre, describes how there are firms that specialize in locating hitherto-unused fiber optic cables and putting them to use where there is unmet demand for bandwidth.

Luckily for Ritchie, there are other opportunities to improve latency times, in the form of unused cabling infrastructure around the world. "We're finding unused cables all [the] time, everywhere [from] China and Russia to parts of Brazil," he explains.

There are a number of reasons why unused, or "dark", fibre optic cable might be lying around, he says. "Quite often, when electricity lines are put down, there's underlying optical fibre as well, because if you're digging a hole you may as well whack as many services in there as possible."

So far, this makes plenty of sense to me. I don't find it at all unremarkable that there is plenty of unused fiber optic cable around the world, and keeping track of where it is and who might be able to use it could be a perfectly reasonable and money-making "match-maker" sort of job.

After all, the great Neal Stephenson described all of this more than 15 years ago, in his epic article for Wired: Mother Earth Mother Board.

But then the article goes a little wonky:

sometimes when military objectives change, all of a sudden a bunch of infrastructure becomes available


Why would there be a secret substation on the Russian border? You would need to ask the Chinese government.


Ritchie is not prepared to reveal precisely how one goes about 'discovering' an unused fibre optic cable in the Mongolian desert. "Are we telling everybody how we do it? No."

What the ? Military objectives? Secret substations? Skull-duggery in the Mongolian desert?

Did the author of the otherwise-bland article just want to spice it up a bit?

Or is there something much darker going on here, slipping by just out of reach from me?

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