S African develops free submarine cables map

Durban-based software developer and occasional TechCentral columnist Greg Mahlknecht has built a free map showing the world’s submarine telecommunications cable systems.

The map, which took Mahlknecht several months to complete, is free of charge and will remain so. It’s available at cablemap.info.

“I saw the Telegeography map and wanted one, but found it cost US$250,” he says. “I didn’t want it that badly and looked for a free alternative to print out but couldn’t find one. I realised a free version needed to be made.”

Over time, with user contributions and guidance, Mahlknecht hopes his free cable map will eventually be more comprehensive and offer greater accuracy that the Telegeography map.

“I’m hoping someone more skilled in geographic information systems than me will see the map and offer to tidy up the routes,” he says. “The Telegeography guys clearly have someone more skilled than me drawing the cables.”

The new map clearly shows the huge volume of undersea capacity that will soon begin to serve African markets, especially along the continent’s west coast. The width of the cables on the map reflect the relative design capacities of the systems.

Mahlknecht has drawn his data from a variety of sources. “Wikipedia has a ‘submarine communications cables’ category and I used this as a starting point before going to each cable’s homepage and gathering alternative information. I have an inherent mistrust of Wikipedia data,” he says. “I had to Google a lot and augment the Wikipedia data with a lot of information found in obscure documents all over the Internet.”

The data underlying the map — Mahlknecht uses a background from Microsoft’s Bing service — will be released under the General Public Licence, the same licence that governs the release of most open-source software.

“Once the site has had some traffic and the inevitable bugs and inaccuracies have been ironed out, I’ll make the data available as a download,” he says. For now, Mahlknecht has created a feedback button and will make any proposed changes he receives manually.

Mahlknecht’s map is the second submarine cables map developed by an SA-based technologist. Steve Song, telecommunications fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation, maintains the African undersea cables map on his Many Possibilities blog.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

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  • Bert

    Thanks Greg this is awsome!

  • Brett

    Nice, where’s the mrtg’s 🙂

  • Trekelny

    This is a terrific service and an example of how the internet can help regular folks. Thanks Greg! I’ve taken a first glance and this looks fairly complete. Keep with the transoceanic cables and away from the intra-regional routes- there are too many of those!

  • I appreciate the kind words about TeleGeography’s maps, and understand that not everyone is in the market one of our print maps. We have to charge a good deal for these maps because they’re huge wall posters, and very expensive to print.

    However, we also have a free high resolution version of our submarine cable map available for download on our website. You can find it here: http://www.telegeography.com/product-info/map_cable/index.php

    I hope it’s useful!


  • Greg

    Thanks for the feedback, both here and via site feedback.

    @Brett: hah.
    @Stephan: Great! Your map’s still the gold standard for this stuff, I’m hoping my vector and GIS-based version can serve a different purpose over time, as it’s not aimed at presentation like yours.

    The map’s been updated, and I added a changelog to it.

  • Brett

    @greg. It’s a nice little tool. I especially like the clickability of the actual links.

    Load stats would be nice but I doubt you’re going to get more than links to existing graphs which may or may not be all that nice 🙁

    Right, back to SC2.