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Broadband To Hit The South Pole 286

Albanach writes: "According to this story from the BBC bids are being invited to lay a fibre-optic cable some 1600 kilometres over polar ice, linking researchers at the South Pole with the rest of the planet. Currently, researcher's communications rely upon older satellites that have drifted from their geostationary orbits into ones that are now at least partly visible from the pole. The new cable will be laid on top of the 4km ice cap, and will have to cope with repeated freezing and stretching as the ice moves."
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Broadband To Hit The South Pole

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  • finally (Score:4, Funny)

    by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:46PM (#4112940) Homepage Journal
    I guess this means we can expect to hear from Tux more often.
  • Challenge (Score:5, Funny)

    by spencerogden ( 49254 ) <spencer@spencerogden.com> on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:46PM (#4112941) Homepage
    This seems like an awefully expensive, challenging way to fix this problem. Are they going to need repeters to stretch fiber that distance?
    • I agree, this seems almost like a waste. Were there NO other solutions? Imagine all the manpower its going to take to install that, much less the support it will need afterwards. Who the hell is behind the wheel on this one? Monty Brewster? It reminds me when he financially supported the removal of an iceburg so that some area could get extra water......
    • Depends on how you look at it, it could soon be home to millions of human beings in transition to mars. One of the only places on earth that is as arid, cold, and barren.

      I'm assuming most of us geeks could live pereptually inside now, we should start pestering the mars society [marssociety.org] to get on this.

    • yes. Fiber distance depends on the speed, if you have a slow signal it's easier to detect the 0&1's even if they've been spread by distance, but for typical speeds, you can expect to need a repeater about every 2km for multi-mode, and every 10km for single-mode.
      • Re:Challenge (Score:5, Informative)

        by chill ( 34294 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:15PM (#4113217) Journal
        Lucent's new optical equipment can push a signal 2000-4000 KM without need for regeneration. Distance depends on speed. It is all DWDM OC-192 multiplex, so the "slow" speed is still ungodly fast.

        Yes, this is a shipping product.
        • Re:Challenge (Score:2, Informative)

          by the_pilot ( 108762 )
          Even tough you don't need regeneration before 2000-4000 km if you are using Lucent optical DWDM system or Nortel's LH4000 DWDM system you still need an optical amplifier at each 100~130km. How will you bring power to does OAS (optical amplifier site) they generally need 60 AMP of power.

          One way it to use underwater transoceanic amplifier systems (Alcatel, Tycom)
    • "OK, our team of scientists in Antarctica has been requesting some broadband Internet access for sometime now. We can't ignore them any more, so what should we do?"

      1. Use long lengths of cable to hook 'em up
      2. Shoot up new satellites into space
      3. Shoot up little satellites to move the big ones back in place
      4. Use ESP
      5. Er...
      6. ...that's it.

      Golly, which of those options do you think they'd pick?

      • Yeah, they obviously chose the stupidest option possible. Can you imagine if the cable broke? That has to be one of the few tech support calls where there's a good chance you aren't coming back.
      • Re:Challenge (Score:3, Insightful)

        by barawn ( 25691 )
        Actually, I think you misunderstood the satellite issue: they're not using satellites for themselves - they're using satellites that other people put up, and have drifted from their geosynchronous orbits - which is over the equator, and not visible from the pole - into an orbit which is "mostly" geosynchronous, but visible from the pole.

        This leads to spotty, poor internet connections (because it's not really geosynchronous, they do move, and they have to be not visible to the pole for some of their orbits) so they need another solution. More satellites would just produce the same current situation, and you definitely don't need to move the old ones back into place - they're working fine currently, but they're just 'spotty', and more importantly, the people who run those satellites probably WANT them in geosync orbit, so they do want to move them back. Fiber's a permanent and cheap solution to this.
      • What's wrong with using the new Quantum Tranceiver Gigabit Ethernet NICs?

        Instant signal transfer with no loss over infinite distances. Sounds like a plan to me.

        Oh wait... they wont be available till what? 2040 or something?

        Maybe in the meantime we could use long lines of penguins to shuttle the packets.

        I can dream can't I?
  • They can bring broadband to the South Pole, but they can't bring it to Podunk, Iowa?
    • Even odder are some of the "No Service Possible" field checks that we get from Business Customers in Greensboro. Hmm I wonder what the build cost is on that. (I work for a large cable ISP...)

      $6/ft*5,249,344ft == $31,496,062 USD. Well that's just to drop the cable. And that assumes that the cable we have will work with the cold.
      So double that number and.. it's about 63 million dollars. That's a hefty field check.

  • The Researchers will be able to download Mp3z at the south pole!
  • by gmr2048 ( 176781 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:47PM (#4112956) Homepage
    and i cant get DSL cuz i'm 200' too far from the CO?
    • 'sounds like you live in San Jose, CA; because I can't get any broadband here either. screw pachell and their $1000/mnth crap. stupid city council here too, there's one cable company (AT&T) and one phone company (SBC PacBell). gee, sounds like innovation and competition to me. shit, and 20-30+GHz wireless line-of-sight is neglected and shelved *cough* Sprint, even though some of that shit works farther than some xDSLs do, but your ping and upload bandwidth will suck and it doesn't work so good with humidity/rain.

      rant keywords="broadband,wireless,optical,ad-hoc"
      WTF, why don't we all just establish ad-hoc wireless, optical band Line-Of-Sight (LOS) metro networks w/ lots of redundancy. Everyone gets somewhere between 5-10 up/download links and stick it into a packet router, sorta like packet modem relay/forwarding. Because we really need two types of QoS services, low ping/low bandwidth and high bandwidth/best-effor. At optical speeds, should be able to get 1-10Mbs, and WDM w/ spread-spectrum (frequency hopping) could be used to give it about 10-100Mbs at News 10 weather relay tower as an example, some kind of retro thing. There's a crazy-huge mast in Shanghai, it looks like a stick-and-ball molecule model but it's meant to be the literal interpretation of a poem. So, in Antarctica, dress up all the radar towers as Tuxs. =)
  • Distance (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pyrosz ( 469177 ) <amurray@st[ ]11.ca ['age' in gap]> on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:47PM (#4112958) Homepage
    Can you just imagine what your ping time would be while playing Quake? Sheeesh. At least my Athlon wouldnt need the super fan I have on it now, just stick it outside to run. Although I suspect it would melt a hole in the ice! ;)
    • Imagine running into the group of researchers in a quake match.....

      Sure, their ping times are all 200, but they are clocking their CPU's to 17GHz and rendering at 64,000 x 32,000! On the bigger maps, they can snipe you from their spawn to yours.

    • Actually it would be quite high if you have to leave the continent as the fiber connects to another base which is able to see a geosync satellite.
  • hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <pig.hogger@gm a i l.com> on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:47PM (#4112959) Journal
    I wonder if the routers will freeze more often. But of course not! They will use Linux, and so will be perfectly at home!
  • by Raul654 ( 453029 )
    How long until we see hardcore antarctican porn sites?
  • Imagine being called out to fix a fiber optic break down there.
  • Wouldn't it be much easier to establish a permanent cable connection to one of the islands off of Antarctica where ice variations would not be an issue? Then you could establish a wireless relay (microwave or other) from their to the south pole stations.

    • Unfortunately, it turns out that the earth is a sphere. I know, who would have thought it? But given that, there's the slight practical problem of beaming the microwaves or other wireless connection through a thousand miles of solid rock.
  • Weird (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mupp252 ( 263650 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:48PM (#4112971)
    Broadband? South Pole? Internet? Penguins? I know there's some sort of wry humor in there somewhere.
    • Broadband? South Pole? Internet? Penguins? I know there's some sort of wry humor in there somewhere.

      This might bring new meaning to the ol' "Avian Carrier" joke...
  • by Idimmu Xul ( 204345 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:48PM (#4112974) Homepage Journal
    cool :)
  • by cr@ckwhore ( 165454 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:49PM (#4112983) Homepage
    Well, wonderful... we can get broadband to the south pole, but tough luck if you live in Cow's Ass, Montana.
  • by pyramid termite ( 458232 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:50PM (#4112998)
    "If they can get broadband to the South Pole, why the hell can't we get it where we live?"
  • It's amazing how they are going to put

    "broadband cable 1600 km over polar ice"

    Or do you mean across polar ice...

    I think cable 1600 km over polar ice would be far more impressive though. :-P
  • To the south pole we go!
    What's next? Now they can build a Nuclear Fusion reactor down there and work from a safe distance!

    Will somebody save tux's family?
  • you'd think that all of north america would be covered by broadband before the south pole...
  • "older satellites that have drifted from their geostationary orbits" But.. wont these polar caps/etc drift themselves? Won't that be a problem?
  • by Insightfill ( 554828 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @12:56PM (#4113038) Homepage
    Finally, we'll start getting more .aq sites out there!!
  • I've yet to see a fibre optic cable of any kind that could survive any significant stretching. These guys are talking stretching on a glacial scale. There's just no way they will be able to overcome this.

    Now, as an earlier post mentioned, running the cable to a coastal area or an island beyond the serious ice and relaying the signal via wireless is a lot more feasible. Of course the reliability will still be an issue as storms of antarctic proportion will impede even the best radio/microwave/laser setups.

    In the end, I suspect that they will simply have to put up another satellite.


    • Now, as an earlier post mentioned, running the cable to a coastal area or an island beyond the serious ice and relaying the signal via wireless is a lot more feasible.

      The pole is in the middle of the landmass. Anywhere on the coast would not have line of sight to the pole. Bouncing a signal of the ionosphere isn't going to work too well here either. Aurora might look nice, but charged paticles slamming into the atmosphere does not a stable ionosphere make.
  • Why not wireless? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by photon317 ( 208409 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:00PM (#4113075)

    It would seem Antartica provides one of the most hostile environments imaginable for wires, especially fragile fiber. Someone may come up with a very novel cabling system that might work, but despite all efforts chances are it will break down in the first year of use because of some onforseen engineering complications.

    So... why not go wireless? They seem to only consider satellites as wireless options, but why no ground-based wireless?

    Surely for this amount of money one could devices a wireless repeater system to be more stable. Apparently you only have to get the signal about 2000km to Concordia and you're good to go - so why not deploy a wireless repeater station every X kilometers?

    There are no obstructions in the path except for snow/ice storms in the air - surely one can find a frequency that deals with this problem well and provides decent bandwidth ver a decent distance right? If you can go 20km at a time it's only 100 repeater stations along the way (or maybe you'd place 2-3 of them 1 km or so apart at each repeat point for redundancy)
    • by mikeplokta ( 223052 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:06PM (#4113132)
      I thought of this, too. But how are you going to power those wireless repeaters. Solar is a bit of a bust, since it's dark for five or six months of the year. Of course, you could always lay a power cable...
      • They have compact wind power devices from Windside [windside.com], a Finnish company. Their equipment regularly runs at -60C, not sure how much colder it could take, though.

        For the summer, supplemental solar would work, and batteries (somehow magically kept warm) can provide a good buffer.
    • Some of the data transfer they might want will probably be very data and time sensitive. Wireless just won't cut it. Think if the Internet vs Internet2. Internet2 is need by certain apps just because of things like QOS, bandwidth, etc.

      Oh and of course the power thing....but that has already been mentioned.
      • It's got to be better than what they currently have. I was actually thinking about "wintering over" down there. They get an email-grade connection to the satellites about 4 times a day. That's it.

        Ok, stick me in a tin can at the most isolated spot on Earth for 6 months. Ok, no sun for that entire period. Ok, the harshest conditions on the planet outside, and not exactly the Hilton inside. But no internet connection? Dealbreaker.
    • Re:Why not wireless? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by splume ( 560873 )
      Actually, I think going wired is a great test to see if it can be done. If we happen to take this space exploration thing seriously, we are going to need to figure out how to keep cables from breaking in *much* colder regions (dark side of the moon). The research that comes out of this I think will be well spent
      • I don't think the cold is the biggest challenge in this, I imagine they have decent experience with cold electronics. The biggest problem as I see it, is the movement of the ice. The tension placed on that cable in specific locations will be immense. I forsee the cable binding with the ice in spots and as those locations move stressing the cable. And its not like the ice will just move under the entire cable, as a cable that length will weigh many tons.
    • Re:Why not wireless? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Yarn ( 75 )
      The fragility of fibre is overstated. I have 5 types of fibre on my lab bench, 'bare' single mode fibre. This is fragile, a touch with a razor blade then bending it is how I cut it so I can join it again with the fusion splicer. I also have some jacketed single mode fibre, which is pretty tough, you can cut it with wire cutters though. There's some strange bits of multimode fibre which are about the same as jacketed single mode, but then there's a bit of telecomms fibre. It's tough stuff, I've looped a bit of spare over my chair and I can stand on the loop. I'd test the affect on transmission but my rig has something more important in it currently.

      In summary, the glass is fragile, but strong. With a proper coating it is tough and strong.
      • True enough,

        But I think it's the gradual pressures that will need to be dealt with. Sure, a flexible cable can handle instantaneous stress, but how about being dragged along by a moving sheet of ice that you're embedded in? They might lay it atop the surface at the start, but it won't stay on top. Even without any melting, drifts will accumulate and bury it... then it will be dragged along with the direction the ice flows. I don't know how fast things like that move, but since different sections might move in different directions, you'd need quite a bit of slack to last more than 5 or 10 years.

        The only way I can think of would be to keep it both strong enough and slightly warm so it "cuts" as the ice moves, instead of being dragged along for the ride. Warmth means power consumption, and I think that would be in short supply for at least half the year.
        • They are really quite different enviroments. The Antarctic is a *continent.* There are no 'iceflows.' There is also comparitively little drifting of free snow, Antarctica is the most arid desert on earth, precipitaion being measured in handfulls of inchs per *century.*

          The glacial icepacks are *miles* deep in places and heating the cable would see it sinking down to the bottom, to be crushed and ripped apart by the *expansion and contraction* of the glacial mass. The ice does not 'move' anymore than it does on your lawn.

          KFG
    • Surely for this amount of money one could devices a wireless repeater system to be more stable.

      So you want to build a set of towers on 4km thick ice, in the middle of nowhere and in an environment which makes pouring concrete impossible and needs exotic steels to be of any use at all? This will come with a high price tag and well as a high cost of fixing any bits which break.

      There are no obstructions in the path except for snow/ice storms in the air - surely one can find a frequency that deals with this problem well and provides decent bandwidth ver a decent distance right?

      What do you propose to power these stations with? About the only workable system would be RTG or fission. IIRC there is a treaty which would prevent beinging in the required nuclear fuel.

      If you can go 20km at a time it's only 100 repeater stations along the way (or maybe you'd place 2-3 of them 1 km or so apart at each repeat point for redundancy)

      Your repeaters would probably cost several million dollers each, plus maintanance. The estimated $250M for the fibre link looks considerably cheaper.

    • Well, there are certainly some issues facing wireless towers as well, but I'd like to defend against some of them:

      1) You could spike some towers into the ice here and there - I'm not talking huge things, I'm talking 10-20 foot tall small towers.

      2) I don't believe the path crosses any ocean, or at least the fiber article didn't seem to indicate this.

      3) By not making it too directional, you can overcome the drift in the wireless path.

      4) You could run a power cable to power them - I think engineering a big electrical cable along this path has got to be easier than running fiber.

      But, supposing none of this works - how about some truly innovative and novel approach to antartic communication then? For instance (I'm I'm just throwing this out, it's a stretch) could one engineer some lightwave communication *through* the ice? Perhaps at a certain depth (a few hundred meters at most?) the ice takes on a very regular crystalline structure, permitting light signalling with some very custom equipment?
  • If we wait (Score:4, Informative)

    by ericdano ( 113424 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:01PM (#4113084) Homepage
    If we wait a few more years [greenpeace.org] we can do an undersea cable.
  • by Lxy ( 80823 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:03PM (#4113110) Journal
    If I have a laptop at the SOUTH POLE, I can check my e-mail and read Slashdot. If I'm at home, 20,000 feet from Qwest's CO, I have to use dialup.
  • Now I can say with authority "If they can get it to the South Pole, you can get it here." next time I call AT&T BI.
  • Radio, not wire (Score:2, Insightful)

    by innate ( 472375 )
    This seems like an exceptionally fragile way to get broadband, after all the ice sheets on which the cable is laid are constantly moving. The Amundsen station itself has moved [rice.edu] over the years. Locating and repairing the cable when it inevitably snaps is going to be very expensive.

    Unfortunately a microwave-based solution would be overwhelmed by the weather conditions there. And RF probably won't provide enough bandwidth. So they may not have many other options.
    • Not necessarily (Score:5, Interesting)

      by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:18PM (#4113246) Homepage
      Instead of laying the cable in a straight line, you lay it in S-shapes. Big S-shapes. That way, there's LOTS of slack, say 500% slack, for the ice sheet movement.

      Of course, you have to use a fairly flexible conduit -- copper piping should do nicely, as long as you can figure out how to make sure it doesn't kink too badly on compression. The S-shapes, again, would help, but a better material would be even better. Maybe copper line with a thick kevlar braid, along the lines of the braid used in a Chinese finger puzzle/trap.

      The Canadian Armed Forces has to recalibrate their microwave dishes every eight years or so up north for CFS Alert on Elsmere Island, because the ice moves. That gets expensive in the long run (Snowcats, helicopters, men), and would be MUCH worse for Antarctica.

      And finally, finding a break in the fiber wouldn't be too hard, ever heard of a time-delay reflectometer?
      • Check out Andrew Corporation's HELIAX line of coax cables. http://www.andrew.com/products/trans_line/default. aspx

        This is semirigid coaxial cable in LARGE diameters. The outer conductor is solid copper, not braided.

        The trick to flexibility is that the copper jacket has a helical corrugation - Much more flexibility, MUCH harder to kink. For what amounts to a variant of 1/2-inch copper pipe filled with PE foam, their FSJ4 superflexible coax is AMAZINGLY flexible. (Sucks compared to our friend RG58, but as I said, given its diameter and the fact that the outer shield is solid, it's impressive.)

        In fact, I believe Andrew does make fiber optic cables based on the Heliax concept.

        Yup - http://www.andrew.com/products/trans_line/amarra.a spx
        In addition they have fiberglass-epoxy composite jacket cable.

        Disclaimer: I do work for Andrew, although not for the division in question.
      • The theories posed here are interesting. One fact has not been stated:

        Things you build on ice or tundra or whatever froze will sink below the ice surface. Re-adjustments because the ice is moving???? Not always.

        Look at the houses / buildings built on arctic areas. They are on stilts. That is to they can:

        1.) Insulate themselves from the ground. Not to make the inside warmer, but to keep the outside cooler. The heat from someting will cause the ground to melt.

        2.) They can jack up the stilts of the building/house after it does sink.

        A cable on ice will be, IMHO, thrashed. The ice moves, opens, and closes. Steel cables to protect it? No way. Not strong enough. And then put something heavy ( the copper pipe idea ) on the ice? The pipe will create heat on the ice just by being there. And then it will sink.

        This idea needs more thought.

        I was in Longyearbyen, Svalbard ( 4 hour flight north of Norway ) last week. I've seen it first hand. They were digging up a cable in the center of town last week because the cable was shifting. Putting this cable down was like building a road. Layers of big rocks, layers of small rocks, then paper, then the cable.

        This was in an area of tundra, not ice. The ice would be worse. And 1500 km? I'd hate to be the guy in the service truck on that account.

        Bill

      • Instead of laying the cable in a straight line, you lay it in S-shapes. Big S-shapes. That way, there's LOTS of slack, say 500% slack, for the ice sheet movement.

        You're assuming a smooth frictionless surface.

        Rather the Antartic terrain is a chaotic one full of swells and dales, cliffs and chasms. It may look "smooth" from far away but up close it's as rich a terrain as any more temperate one. There are wide smoothish plains but they're not the rule any more then North America is all prarie, and the same as other places there are innumerable small features even in the great expanses.

        Furthermore any object on the surface will soon sink due to solar warming leaving it tightly locked in for much of it's length. What doesn't slide downhill or with the wind will soon be set in place as if it had been encased in concrete; unfortunately parts of this concrete are moving at different slow rates. Sure long sections will be regularly exposed due to local conditions, winds, etc. but I'm guessing at the end of 12 month at least 50% of any cable would be embedded and 75%+ after the second summer.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:08PM (#4113162) Homepage
    Iridium [iridium.com] is back up and running, covers the entire planet (the satellites are in low polar orbits) and the U.S. Government has a bulk buy deal on Iridium satellite minutes. (DoD now owns part of the system, having bought in after the bankruptcy.)
  • Hands up: who thinks wireless (microwave, 802.11, whatever) would be a much better idea here?
    • They certainly seem like better solutions, at first glance. But, when you look more closely they are just as problematic.

      These wireless relay stations would suffer greatly form weather interference. Antarctic storms have horendous winds, insane cold and lots of snow and ice. Additionally, how would you power such relay stations, solar? I doubt that this would be effective as batteries are going to have serious issues at -100F.

      The cable solution is no good either. The movement or flow of the ice will destroy the cable before the project is completed. They are talking about laying the cable on top of the ice. This will be covered by several feet of ice in the first few months. This tightly locks the cable to the flowing ice which would of course be disasterous. What happens when a crevass opens up or an existing one shifts? Also, hanging the cables on poles is no good either. Wind will be a major problem, not to mention the weight of ice forming on the suspended cable.

      When all the present options are closely examined, satellite is the best alternative. The up front costs are high but, so is the $250Million to install this fibre. But, beyond the initial investment there is far less on going cost. Maintenance will be ngligable in comparison to cable. Atmospheric interruptions will be less than wireless. Satellite can also be installed/launched much more rapidly than this project has any hope of completion.
    • Hands up: who thinks wireless (microwave, 802.11, whatever) would be a much better idea here?

      When did 802.11 aquire a range of just over 1,000 miles?
  • by Raiford ( 599622 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:16PM (#4113238) Journal
    The current network connecting the existing research facilities at the South Pole is quite extensive and lends itself to satallite links. It would seem that another satallite would be the best solution. Check out the article by Raytheon Polar Services [cisco.com] which describes the current technology down there.

  • Perhaps running the cabling in a conduit that is filled with warm oil or water would be good. You could have it in a pipe and have heaters every X distance. Either that or just a super insulated shielding. The laser itself produces a good bit of heat. I forget if the high powered lasers would heat it any to begin with.
    I guess they need a bungie cord/fibre solution now though eh? Those glaciers moving can be a little dangerous to little olde fibre.

  • Two Towers (Score:3, Funny)

    by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <dfenstrate AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @01:34PM (#4113367)
    Maybe they could just put up two really tall towers, one at each end, and do microwave transmission.
    Then, if something ever breaks due to the extreme environment, you'd know where to find the problem.

    Now, just how tall would those towers have to be?
    Well, if the target station is at 75 degrees, then...
    7926 miles (earth diameter)/2 - cos((90-75)/2)*(7926 miles)/2 = 34 miles.

    hmmmm... maybe a cable is a better idea after all. Can someone check my math?
    • Plugging some numbers into a wireless link calculator [techsplanet.com], I find that two towers would have to be about 38 miles high to see each other above the radio horizon. (Don't forget you need to take into account the fresnel zone.) A more realistic height of 150' yields 38 towers at 54 km apart, 33 towers 62 km apart at 200', 26 towers 80 km apart at 100 meters high, or 8 towers 252 km apart at 1km high.

      Overall, I'd say putting a satellite constellation (say, 4 satellites so one's always visible) in non-equatorial orbit would be one plan, and a wire to a spot where at least 2 geostationary satellites are visible would be the other. Wireless links won't cut it here. Even if you could put a couple of the towers on specially picked mountains, you'd still have too much possibility of failure.

      On the other hand, and in an off the wall comment, if I were doing this, I'd include in the contract a requirement for an elliptical 1m wide, 1.25m high space running the length of the inside of the conduit. Its going to be a huge conduit already, might as well make it multi-purpose, right? Imagine being able to just hit the antarctic coast and taking a tube-shuttle from the coast to the station. Wheee!!!

    • by curunir ( 98273 )
      As long as you're connecting The Two Towers, why not use a couple palantírs?
  • One interesting note: I think the ice shifts about 10 meters per year at the pole. Don't know what the rest of Antarctica is like, but it presents an interesting problem if they are planning on laying the cable on the ground...
  • Wired Article (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mclaugh ( 130321 )
    Last month, Wired ran an article [wired.com] about the new construction at the South Pole. It makes no mention of this fiber.
    As an Engineer for one of the Telephone Companies, I can tell you that fiber is stronger than you think. I had a pole get hit, knocking the cables the ground- a few 18 wheelers drove over the cables, partially crushing a copper cable. But, the two fiber cables were uninjured (part of their sheathing was shorn away, though).
    Still, running fiber to the South Pole is idiotic- think of how long (and how costly) the FLAG [ieee.org] project was!
  • by sharkey ( 16670 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @02:24PM (#4113756)
    And does it move? Or has progress killed it off, just like the barber poles here?
  • by maggard ( 5579 ) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @02:37PM (#4113887) Homepage Journal
    1. Satellite

      Lovely solution, just one problem: They don't stay put.

      Sure over the equator they can orbit at the same rate the planet rotates and so appear "fixed" but that only works over that narrow ecliptic. Instead to cover extreme N. & S. latitudes one needs sats on a much more inclined orbit and then they're out of sight much of the time, a dozen or so would be required to provide continuous coverage. That means a couple of expensive launches, a serious of expensive sats, and of course their own-going management (course-corrections, problem resolution, etc.)

    2. Radio Repeaters

      Why not build a series of microwave repeaters or such, bring the cable to the shore then broadcast the rest of the way? A couple of reasons:

      1. Putting in place that many repeater stations across the Antarctic would be difficult. They'd need to be tall, durable (in super-cold weather), well-anchored, and able to compensate for slowly moving stations.
      2. Getting back to them to fix any problems would be well nigh impossible much of the year so lots of redundancy, increased complexity, etc.
      3. Where's the power to come from? There isn't any local grid to plug in to and as the Canadians & Siberians will attest running long power lines across extreme latitudes is difficult (no grounding, lots of electromagnetic effects from aural storms, etc.) Solar won't work for a few months a year plus there's the buildup problem, burning hydrocarbons wouldn't be allowed plus would require regular refueling, and radiothermal seems very unlikely.

    3. Fiberoptic Cable

      Yes fiber isn't the most robust material on its own. On the other hand it can be clad in all sorts of super-durable materials to protect it.

      To protect from stretching the fiber might be coiled inside an outer cladding so it's 2x or 3x as long as required. Or it could be threaded through an outer cladding (think 'garden hose') so it can slide back and forth under slight tension between 1km "reservoir" loops.

      Of course there's still the problem of powering the repeaters, but then that's why this contract is out there: To get folks interested in solving the problem.

    Hmm, what would the Thunderbirds [thunderbirdsonline.co.uk] have done?

    • the stretching issue can be solved by laying the fiber in an S-curve. This allows it to compress when needed and stretch when needed. The key is to put enough curve in it to allow for all the 'play' that it is likely have over a given year, and to identify the direction of stretching so that the curve can be centered around the vector.
      • the stretching issue can be solved by laying the fiber in an S-curve.

        You're assuming a smooth frictionless surface.

        Rather the Antartic terrain is a chaotic one full of swells and dales, cliffs and chasms. It may look "smooth" from far away but up close it's as rich a terrain as any more temperate one. There are wide smoothish plains but they're not the rule any more then North America is all prarie, and the same as other places there are innumerable small features even in the great expanses.

        Furthermore any object on the surface will soon sink due to solar warming leaving it tightly locked in for much of it's length. What doesn't slide downhill or with the wind will soon be set in place as if it had been encased in concrete; unfortunately parts of this concrete are moving at different slow rates. Sure long sections will be regularly exposed due to local conditions, winds, etc. but I'm guessing at the end of 12 month at least 50% of any cable would be embedded and 75%+ after the second summer.

        Or, I could be completely off-base and you've just won yourself a contract.

        • actually, I was assuming uniform expansion of the ice pack, but I can't assume that either, so you raise many valid points.

          what you could do is embed the actual cable in something hollow, like some flexible conduit or pvc pipe. Lay the flexible pipe in an s-curve, and pull the fiber through. That'll let the relatively fragile cable move back and forth, while the conduit absorbs the stretching. The conduit could break, but all that would cause is water to get inside and freeze up - which you'd have if you laid the fiber out on the ice anyway.

          • what you could do is embed the actual cable in something hollow, like some flexible conduit or pvc pipe.

            You mean like this?:

            Or it could be threaded through an outer cladding (think 'garden hose') so it can slide back and forth under slight tension between 1km "reservoir" loops.

            Well that's [slashdot.org] a clever idea!

            grin

    • 2 Radio Repeaters

      Why not build a series of microwave repeaters or such, bring the cable to the shore then broadcast the rest of the way? A couple of reasons:

      3. Where's the power to come from? There isn't any local grid to plug in to and as the Canadians & Siberians will attest running long power lines across extreme latitudes is difficult (no grounding, lots of electromagnetic effects from aural storms, etc.) Solar won't work for a few months a year plus there's the buildup problem, burning hydrocarbons wouldn't be allowed plus would require regular refueling, and radiothermal seems very unlikely.

      You forgot wind power. If I recall correctly, Antarctica is the windiest place on earth, and as such would be an ideal place for wind generation, assuming your generators can withstand the environment that is. :)

      There would likely be communications blackouts when power isn't available, (storing electricity is a bitch at the best of times, doubly so when your batteries freeze) but probably not nearly as much of a problem as current solutions, especially if power requirements are low.

      Adjusting the dishes might not be as hard as you think, especially since the direction and rate of movement would be known. If you really like, you can have your repeaters report their position every X hours with GPS so that the other towers will know where to point automatically. Also, the beam of radiation is focused about as much as a flashlight, so it's not like it's excruciatingly important when a station moves a few centimeters to the right. Omnidirectional repeaters would be less of a hassle in this instance, but you'd need more of them or you wouldn't exactly have a high speed connection at the end. :)

      However, I'm guessing that this has either already been done, or it's already been thought of and discarded because of some kind of impracticality. More than likely it's too much of a pain in the ass to fix when things break down, or it's too complex and thus breaks down more often. This solution seemed pretty obvious to me, and I'm not even close to being an engineer.
  • FINALLY!!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by southpolesammy ( 150094 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @02:54PM (#4114037) Journal
    However me and the other penguins are probably going to get busted for swapping illegal Whale Song MP3's now....
  • More info... (Score:3, Informative)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <slashdot2 AT gdargaud DOT net> on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @03:08PM (#4114128) Homepage
    I can provide more information on that project. As a former geek in Antarctica [gdargaud.net] I was recently contacted by the company doing the bidding for this cable where they asked me for more information.

    I went to Dome C [gdargaud.net], now renamed Concordia [gdargaud.net], twice, in 1997 and 2000 to install some atmospheric physics experiments. I had to lay some cable there. Although it doesn't snow much (at most one mm / day), after 2 months the cables were buried and difficult to remove. We have to use expensive teflon coated cables so they won't break from the cold (-25~-50C in summer and down to -80C in winter, colder than South pole itself).

    They want to lay the cable between Concordia and South pole for various reasons: Concordia is a joint French/Italian project that started in 1997 and should be operational for winterover in 2004. The french have lots of experience with ground raids to resupply station from the coast (Dumont d'Urville [gdargaud.net]); while the Americans always fly C-130 to the Pole.

    There has never been any land raid between Dome C and South pole, although a woman skied it alone in 1999 (pictures on my site as well). The flow of ice is non-existent at Dome C, for the simple reason that the several 'domes' are local ice summits from which the ice flows. They will certainly run into problems of stretching cables nearer to the pole though.

    But from Dome C to where ? Right now the communications are very limited: one email connection a day, expensive NOAA phone calls/fax, Irridium when they are not bankrupt... It would be impossible to lay another cable between DC and the coast for the simple reason that the ice accelerates it's flow and it gets full of crevasses... Maybe a dedicated antenna can reach a geostationary satellite, but that's not the way it works right now.

  • Instead of going to the expense of laying a few thousand miles of fibre, why not just adapt RFC 1149 [ietf.org] to the local conditions? In addition to a huge cost-saving, it's a Linux friendly solution!

  • The south pole gets broadband before *I* do in Ohio????
  • Global Crossing?

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