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Garden Hose Of Laser Light To Link U.S. and Japan

April 18, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ The first fiber-optic cable across the Pacific Ocean went into service today, tying the United States and Japan together more tightly than ever before.

The cable, no bigger than a garden hose, stretches 8,271 miles from California, through Hawaii, splitting in the western Pacific into legs that travel to Guam and Japan.

Pacific Link vastly increases the capacity for communication across the Pacific, which is sometimes called the ocean of America’s future.

Instead of driving a golden spike, the builders of the $700 million cable marked its completion with a video teleconference between Japan and the boardroom of the New York Stock Exchange.

″The distance between the two countries has become shorter,″ Shiro Uramatsu, executive vice president of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, said from the Japanese end of the hookup.

″We now have a new base, a new plateau″ for communications services, John Berndt, president of International Communications Services for American Telephone & Telegraph Co., said in New York.

The completion of Pacific Link comes just four months after completion of the first fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic, TAT-8, which was inaugurated with a video speech by author and futurist Isaac Asimov.

Fiber links will now stretch most of the way around the world, competing with satellites for the business of carrying phone calls, computer traffic and video conferences. Satellites are still used for television.

Unlike traditional copper cables, fiber-optic cables carry information in pulses of laser light. The single new cable will be able to carry 40,000 phone calls at a time across the Pacific, compared with less than 1,000 for the two copper cables already in service combined.

AT&T owns 35 percent of the cable. Kokusai Denshin Denwa, Japan’s international phone company, owns 23 percent. There are 30 partners in all, including MCI Communications Corp. and US Sprint Communications Co., as well as phone companies in Australia, Brunei, Canada, France, West Germany, Hong Kong, South Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, and Britain.

Laying fiber across deep oceans required some special considerations. Surfers had to be moved aside at Hawaii’s Makaha Beach to make room for a dinghy that brought the cable ashore. Sharks are attracted to the cables, so they had to be sheathed in steel to a depth of about 8,500 feet. That makes those sections about the thickness of a man’s fist.

The trans-Atlantic cable has suffered three partial outages in its brief life, two caused by damage from fishing trawlers on the French leg and one caused by an electrical short on the British leg, said AT&T spokesman Rick Wallerstein.

The Pacific Link leaves the West Coast at Point Arena, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. After its split in the western Pacific, the southern leg goes to Guam and the northern touches land in Chikura, Japan.

Phone traffic between the United States and Japan is growing about 20 percent a year, Wallerstein said. Worldwide international phone traffic is growing about 15 percent a year, a figure that includes the Japan growth, he said.

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