How does the internet get into our homes?

Most of the messages we send over the internet travel amazingly long distances in a matter of seconds. Various media – from submarine cable to air – are used for transmission. What does a digital journey like this look like?

The internet has become an indispensable part of our everyday lives. We use it to a new extent every day, both professionally and privately – especially since the outbreak of the pandemic. It is so taken for granted that we rarely think about the infrastructure and technology behind it.

Land and sea cables

Basically, the internet is an association of many computer networks, e.g. servers of providers, companies or universities, which exchange data with each other. Servers store information and keep it ready for our end devices to retrieve (e.g. internet pages). The individual networks are connected to the internet via fibre optic cables that converge at so-called internet nodes. The data from the different networks is exchanged there. In Germany, there are 24 such internet nodes in nine cities (including, for example, Frankfurt, Munich and Nuremberg). From there, it goes to internet nodes all over the world, also via fibre optic cables laid as land and submarine cables. One of these submarine cables is, for example, the transatlantic cable Marea, with which Microsoft and Facebook created a connection between the USA and Europe in 2017 and over which 71 million HD videos can be streamed simultaneously. The cable has roughly the diameter of a garden hose and is a gigantic 6,600 km long. Its route through the Atlantic avoids volcanoes, earthquake zones and coral reefs.

At the speed of light

If you now use a service on the internet (whether surfing the web, sending WhatsApp or taking part in a video conference), the corresponding request is first usually sent wirelessly via WLAN to the router. The router establishes the connection between the in-house network and the public internet and determines the fastest path for data transmission. Via the cable network of the various network operators (providers) it then goes, again via router, to the server on which the desired internet page is located. From there, the data packets are sent to the requesting device. Large amounts of data are divided into small packets, which do not necessarily all take the same route and are only reassembled at the destination device. Many service providers, including Facebook and WhatsApp, for example, have their servers abroad. So a WhatsApp message actually travels (at least in part) at the speed of light from the sender via the server in the USA to the recipient!

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Did you know?

What is Big Data

Big data is the term used to describe the huge amount of data that companies collect every day. It is not the data itself that is interesting, but the behavioural patterns that can be derived from it. The analysis of the data enables precise forecasts and helps companies to develop new products and tools that are on trend. In addition, the data is used, for example, by health service providers or retailers to target customers, to analyse and evaluate their (purchasing) behaviour.