How Does the Internet Work?

Wait. That's the cable? I was expecting somethingso much bigger. That's the internet. To get across the ocean,nearly all internet traffic has to use a cablelike that one. -

It's tiny. I'm so surprised.- You're actually surprised. I know, I could tell.Love it. All right, let's go getsome hard hats. anywhere outside of the United State, this is probablyhow it's getting to you. For most of us, the internet is virtual. It's made of Instagram postsand e-mails and YouTube videos. But it's also a physical thing, and what it's made of and where it goes matters for how we use the internet now and who will be benefit in the future.

So I want to know how does our internet really work and what comes next? The decade I was born,people were still learningabout the internet, and they didn't exactlyconsider it crucial. But, you know,I think about this. What about thisinternet thing? What the hellis that exactly? And they call itthe World Wide Web. You can e-mail anyone. What the hell is e-mail? Man: Can you believewhat's possible these days? Conversationsthrough your computer.

Cleo: But now it seems we can'teven function without it. Jobs require onlineapplications. Parents aroundthe country know that their kids can't getan adequate education without internet access. I mean, people tweetingthat they needed to be rescuedand a boat came in. It's truly been life saving. The internet hasbecome essential to us, but a lot of usstill don't know how it works.

Okay, I need youto close your eyes. - All of us?- Just trust me. Just close your eyes. Yeah, for real.I'm serious.Close your eyes. What's the craziest thingshe could show us - when we open our eyes?- ( laughs ) - I hope it's kittens.- Okay, now you can open them. ( screams ) - Joss: Tiny people!- Alex: They're us. Christophe:It's tiny us.

So I know that there are threemajor parts of the internet. We are on this outer ring.They call it the last mile, but really it's the firstand last mile.

So it's the texts we send, the notifications we receive,the apps we use. Everything we do to connector receive informationfrom the internet happens in this firstand last mile. And we are inside… the Vox office. Also out in this outer ringare houses. -

You guys wanna help me put these down?- Yes. - Trees.- So all of the-- all of the treesand all of the houses, all Wi-Fi,which uses routers somewhere in our officeor somewhere in your home, and all cell service, which means thatyou're paying a cell tower a little bit further away, but still pretty close by. All this wireless technologyuses radio waves to send signals intoand out of the internet.

I'm gonna show youhow this works. But first,I'm gonna take a selfie. Perfect. Okay. So this is our selfie.I-- ( laughs ) - Joss, you've nailed that face.- Yeah, it's my go-to. So I'm just gonna send thisto you via e-mail. - Typical e-mail.- Typical e-mail. - There it is.- Boom. - Ta-da.- So my goal is to figure out how my e-mail gotfrom my phone to yours. In order for my e-mailto get from here to here, my phone takes that photo and cuts it up - into more manageable packets.-

No! - We've been decapitated.- Just-- - Christophe: Just me.- Just you. - So, imagine each packet like a letter in an envelope.- Uh-huh. So, each envelopegets a header, which is a little bit moreinformation that includes-- - Christophe: Where it's from.

Where it's from and where it's going to, and a bunch of other thingsthat we're not goingto talk about. So the format of each headerfollows a set of rules, and you can thinkabout these rules like the rulesof the online postal system. How everything is packagedand sent and receivedon the internet. So you've probablyheard people say thateverything that happens in our computeris ones and zeros. -

Right? Binary.- I have. Yeah. Cleo:Which we can think of as a kind of Morse codeyour computer understands. And everything that you sendover the internet - is also binary.- Mm-hmm. Christophe:( gasps ) What? - Ta-da!- When did this happen? - What?- I do magic now. - Okay.- Incredible. So, each one or zero is a bit and eight bits is a byte. So, if this photowas 1.1 megabytes that's 8,800,000 onesand zeros.

So, somehowthese binary ones and zeros have to get onto radio wavesto be transported - to the router, right?- Exactly. Yes. - Okay.- And that's where I got stuck. So, I called upSundeep Rangan, who specializes incomputer engineering at NYU. How does a wave carrybinary information? Ah, that is a very goodquestion.

So, the simplest thingyou could do is every time you wantto transmit, say, a zero, you could transmitone frequency. And every time you wantto transmit a one, you transmita different frequency. And then as longas the receiver can detect which frequency it is,it can know it's a one or zero. That's actually calledfrequency modulation.

Is it also fair then to say that at its most basic,a cell phone is a radio? Sundeep:It is a radio. It is absolutely a radio. Okay, so waveswith binary information have to get from my phoneto the router. But then at the router,they have to be turnedinto something else that can go outthe back of that device along cables to getto their next location.

Depending on whatthe wire is made of, it's either gonna bepulses of electricity if the wire is copper,or pulses of laser light. Sundeep:So, it's a laserand it just turns on when there's a one,it turns off when it's zero. So, faster than this. - A little bit faster than that.- Faster than this? So our photo wentfrom binary to radio waves - to little flashes of laser light, right?- Yes.

Where does it go after that? We're about to find out, but I'm gonna take Alex. - You're not taking me?- No. It's his turn. I gotta go. Ooh. So, the wires outof the back of our router connect to other wiresinside out office, which are owned by ourinternet service provider - or ISP.- Alex: Okay. And they're responsiblefor looking at the header of each of those envelopes and figuring outthe most efficient route to get to its next location,which is an internet hub. -

Alex: And where would that be?- Cleo: Right there. That's an internet hub. - Alex: This old building?- Cleo: Yeah. - All right, let's go.- It looks just like every other office buildingI've ever seen. Greg Sisk: Well, it started asWestern Union's headquarters. So, it supported telegraphoperators back in the day, and it's migrated to today where it's supportingthe internet - here in lower Manhattan.-

That's poetic. So all those wires all needto come to a place like this to connect between networks. So, for our example, our ISPin the office has a network. And AT&T, which isChristophe's cell provider,has a network. And in order for my e-mailto get from my phone into Christophe's phone, all of those networks haveto send those ones and zeros across those wire pathways. There's so much that happens in that split secondthat you connect. So there's reallyno such thing as a cloud or any type of magnanimous-- -

The cloud is a marketing term.- Yeah. Cleo: The thing thatI find really amazing is that, like, my e-mail is oneof the millions of messages flowing through these cables.

That feels really abstract,but it's actually-- there's a messageto somebody's mom and there'sa college application and there's a job offer. And there's a dank memein here somewhere. ( music playing ) Okay, so my e-mail becamea series of waves of light that travels over the tubesof the internet.

But what if I wanted to send itsomewhere really far away? Somewhere on the other sideof the world? We're inNewington, New Hampshire,to go to a factory that's gonna show ushow the internet worksat long distances. We're headed into the third layer, the internet backbone. Oh, that's the cable highway. What's the cable highway? Cleo: That's where the cables go from the factory down to the dock.

The company we're gonna go see, SubCom, is one of the top four submarine cable providers in the world. There's the ship. - All right.- Hi. - Hi. I'm Alysia.- Hi. I'm Cleo. - So nice to meet you.- Nice to meet you. Alysia:This is the SubCom Decisive. She is a custom-builtcable installation and maintenance vessel. She's 139 meters long, which is about 450 feet. - Wow.- Yeah. Cleo: The engineering and material science at work here are incredibly complex. But the basic processis actually really simple. Light goes inon one side of the ocean and comes out on the other.

So, as the Decisive movesacross the ocean, the internet cableis gonna come out the back and be laid down behind it. And sometimes it's gonnabe buried in the ocean floor by that machine right there. But most of the timeit's just gonna lay there on the bottom of the ocean.

So, these are the two typesof cable that we have,the two basic types. So this one, this is calledlightweight cable. So that's the onethat we would usein the middle of the ocean. And then this pieceis the stuff that we use the plow to installand actually bury. And the cable is engineeredto be super strongin a lot of ways, but it is also very delicatein a lot of other ways.

Cleo: The wires that carry the light waves themselves are typically made of fiberglass, literally just a continuous strand of glass about the size of a human hair. Why is it that there areso few fibers? We're working on tryingto put more fibersinside the cable to get more datainto each fiber to make it so that we can send moreinformation than whatwe already have. ( music playing ) Whoa! - So that's the cable tank.- Whoa.

Slow, slow.We got the pipe.We got the pipe. Alysia:Work it over.Work it over. What we're doingis we're loading itinto the tank in a continuous spool, right? Is it, like, 10 tons,50 tons? Oh, we're loadingten tons in a day. Cleo:Oh, my God. Cool. Alysia: It's gonna end up beingabout 60 days of plowing. - Wow.- Yeah. Alysia:

So, 70 days total to prep and install it. Okay, on the highway you havetwo minutes until cable starts. What do you want? Cleo: What blows me away is just how much hard physical labor is required to make the internet work. Thank you. The craziest thing is that this cable is one of about 400 exactly like it that create a web around the Earth. -

Oh.- Wow! So we're just gonna lay down the undersea cablesof the internet so that we can seewhere they go. Christophe, you get Africa, and I'll give youpart of Europe. Joss: I love the onethat goes acrossthe Great Lakes. Cleo: You guys wanna seewhat the internetactually looks like? - Yeah, totally do.- Okay. - Whoa.- Wow. - Whoa!- That's crazy. Oh, there's, like,all this metal in here. Seems like a sharkcould take a bite outof that pretty easily.

I was gonna say the same thing.- I'm so happy you said that. - Does that happen?- Yes. So there's this videoof a shark biting a cable like thisof the internet. - Oh, there he is.- He's a big boy. Big boy. Nom. - Oh, doesn't taste good.- Oh, that probably hurt his teeth. - I know, poor guy.- He didn't like it.

So, after that videowent viral in 2014, the Internet CableProtection Committee, released this reportthat has my favorite titleof any report of all time, which is"Sharks are not the Nemesisof the Internet." The vast majority of faultsare caused by human activity. - It's, like, fishing, anchors.- Anchors. - Drilling.

Yeah.- Stuff like that. Woman: The kingdom of Tonga has faced a cell phone and internet crisis after a fault in a fiber optic submarine cable cut its main connectionwith the world. Cleo: In January 2019,experts believe that an oil tankerdragged an anchor acrossthe seabed here, which of course caused a reallybig problem for Tonga.

What is the problem?If it's in land, when it's in land,it's all in land in Fiji,a quick fix. But if it's in the water?Ooh-ya, ooh-ya, ooh-ya. It's gonna take a long,long time. And it took 13 daysto get the internet back. - 13 days.- Long days and nights.

That's a long time. So if you live in one of theseheavily connected places like the United States or many,many other parts of the world, it is very, very unlikely that an anchor cuttinga part of your internet is gonna interruptyour service.

But what happened in Tongadoes call attention to how importantthis infrastructure is and how much we rely on it. I feel like, I mean,I've never lived in a time when all of these toolswere not part of my daily life. It's kind of sadthat it's not somethingthat's available to everyone. Yeah, exactly. There are lotsof people that still don't have reliable internetaccess in the first place. I wanted to find out more about how we could actually solve that problem. ( music playing ).

So we're here in Nevadato see a company that's helping more peopleget access to the internet. But before we get there,I have some maps to show you.

This is a basic mapof the internet backbonein the United States. You can tell justby looking at this map why it might be thatsome people have a hard time getting low cost,high speed internet.

Companies aren't as incentivizedto lay fiber optic cabling where there are fewer peoplethere to pay them for it. The same appliesto low income areas. This map shows the areasthat researchers call uneconomic for companies in red, meaning that the typicalmonthly costs exceed the expectedmonthly revenue.

In many of these red areas,people only have one or two options forinternet service providers, meaning that those serviceproviders can jack up the costs. The darker the country,the more people there are payingfor internet service.

So there's a lot of varietyaround the world and even within countriesin terms of who has access to the internetand at what cost, and that has a huge impacton people. ( music playing ) If you haven't heard about 5G, get ready for a fasterinternet connection. Man: 5G could end upbeing 100 times faster than what we have now. Instead of having a cell towerevery few miles, - Woman:

Yeah.- 5G requires that we literally need an antennaon every square block. Okay, hold on. What really is 5Gand why would it be so fast? Well, rememberthose radio waves? One of the major innovationsof 5G is the ability to use higher frequency waves.

Because at higher frequencies,you can pack more information into each wave.Here's the catch. At higher frequencies, it'seasier to block those waves. I mean, visible light isvery high frequency and I can block it with my hand. That's not a problemfor fiber optic cables because they're basicallylong glass laser light tunnels.

But 5G has to reach youwirelessly wherever you are, so that would meanthey would need a lot more physical infrastructure. Of course, new infrastructurecosts money. Companies havethe same incentives for where to put 5Gthat they had before. Cities, not rural areas, rich communities,not poor ones. So 5G could be an exciting wayto improve internet service for people who havefast access already.

But the tech requiredmeans it's unlikely to helppeople who don't. At least not any time soon. ( music playing ) Cleo: We're here to see Loon, and what they do is they send balloons into the stratosphere to provide internet access to people below radio waves. Loon is a connectivity company that's really focusedon the unconnectedand the under-connected.

Cleo: Loon is owned by Alphabet, which also owns Google and YouTube, who funded this show. but Loon didn't have any say over our editorial. So, they can't actuallylaunch a balloon today, because there wasa huge storm yesterday, which kind of alsogoes to show how finickya lot of this stuff is.

But what you have to imagine is that there'sa balloon in there and then it launchesfrom that large red thingup into the sky, and it uses stratospheric winds to navigateto its next location, which could be onthe other side of the world. ( music playing ) So, you can see a numberof balloons over here in South America,and you can see what altitude they're at,like, at 60,000 feet, and basicallywhere they're flying. ( music playing ) This is the hatchery.This is where we build and test allof our flight systems before theygo out to launch.

So this is the balloon.- This is the balloon. And then the part that flieswith the balloon-- - It's this flight system here and the solar panels.- Got it. And the brains of itare in that box… - This box?- …that's being cooled by those fans right now. And so what we dois we put a ground station in a point of vantagewhere it can see the sky. And then from there,it can actually talk toone of our balloons.

Our balloons can talk to each other and they're talking via radio waves. And then from one of those balloons that's over the top of your phone, there's transmit and receive frequencies that are going down to your phone. What are someof the best examples that you've been mostexcited about where-- Yeah, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Ricoand the Caribbean Islands, we were able to fly balloonsover the top of Puerto Rico. And within a couple weeks,we were able to serve about a quarter millionsubscribers. - Wow.- And it's enough to know that a user on the ground was able to get outa text message or an e-mail or a note to a loved oneor something like that.

Amazon has Project Kupierand SpaceX has Starlink. It seems likethis is becoming somethingthat more and more - companies are focusing on.- Yeah, absolutely. The more the merrier,because there's a lotof people to connect. Cleo: These are all spaceor near space systems that use radio waves to getpeople access to the internet. And that's one reasonwhy it's unlikely that they're gonna replacegood old cables. Radio waves and laser light and all of these differenttypes of technology that help us get accessto the internet all in the endneed to work together.

We don't seek to replace fiberor replace satellites. They're very complementarytechnologies. Going into spaceis still a new thing. I'm pretty confidentabout my job prospects for at least the next while. The internet isn't a luxury.We don't just want to connect. We need to to be a partof this massive, crucial, sometimes infuriatingglobal community.

So as you check the newsor message a friend or watch a YouTube video,consider this, our connectionshave never been virtual. They're physical,and they're still very mucha work in progress. Hey. Want more episodesof "Glad You Asked"? You can find them here, and you can find morefrom YouTube Learning here. "Glad You Asked,""YouTube Learning." "Glad You Asked,""YouTube Learning."

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