How Does the Internet Work? – Glad You Asked S1

( music playing )Wait. That’s the cable? I was expecting something
so much bigger. That’s the internet. To get across the ocean,
nearly all internet traffic has to use a cable
like 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 get
some hard hats. Cleo:If you’re watching
this YouTube video
anywhere outside
of the United State,
this is probably
how it’s getting to you.For most of us,
the internet is virtual.
It’s made of Instagram posts
and 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 nowand who will be benefit
in the future.
So I want to know how does
our internet really work
and what comes next?( music playing )( music playing )The decade I was born,
people were still learning
about the internet, and they didn’t exactly
consider it crucial. But, you know,
I think about this. What about this
internet thing? What the hell
is that exactly? And they call it
the World Wide Web. You can e-mail anyone. What the hell is e-mail? Man: Can you believe
what’s possible these days? Conversations
through your computer. Cleo: But now it seems we can’t
even function without it. Jobs require online
applications. Parents around
the country know that their kids can’t get
an adequate education without internet access. I mean, people tweeting
that they needed to be rescued
and a boat came in. It’s truly been life saving. The internet has
become essential to us, but a lot of us
still don’t know how it works. Okay, I need you
to 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 thing
she 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 three
major parts of the internet. We are on this outer ring.
They call it the last mile, but really it’s the first
and last mile. So it’s the texts we send, the notifications we receive,
the apps we use. Everything we do to connect
or receive information
from the internet happens in this first
and last mile. And we are inside… the Vox office. Also out in this outer ring
are houses. – You guys wanna help me
put these down?
– Yes. – Trees.
– So all of the– all of the trees
and all of the houses, all Wi-Fi,
which uses routers somewhere in our office
or somewhere in your home, and all cell service, which means that
you’re paying a cell tower a little bit further away, but still pretty close by. All this wireless technology
uses radio waves to send signals into
and out of the internet. I’m gonna show you
how 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 this
to 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 got
from my phone to yours. In order for my e-mail
to 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 envelope
gets a header, which is a little bit more
information that includes– – Christophe: Where it’s from.
– Where it’s from
and where it’s going to, and a bunch of other things
that we’re not going
to talk about. So the format of each header
follows a set of rules, and you can think
about these rules like the rules
of the online postal system. How everything is packaged
and sent and received
on the internet. So you’ve probably
heard people say that
everything that happens in our computer
is ones and zeros. – Right? Binary.
– I have. Yeah. Cleo:
Which we can think of as a kind of Morse code
your computer understands. And everything that you send
over 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 photo
was 1.1 megabytes that’s 8,800,000 ones
and zeros. So, somehow
these binary ones and zeros have to get onto radio waves
to be transported – to the router, right?
– Exactly. Yes. – Okay.
– And that’s where
I got stuck. So, I called up
Sundeep Rangan, who specializes in
computer engineering at NYU. How does a wave carry
binary information? Ah, that is a very good
question. So, the simplest thing
you could do is every time you want
to transmit, say, a zero, you could transmit
one frequency. And every time you want
to transmit a one, you transmit
a different frequency. And then as long
as the receiver can detect which frequency it is,
it can know it’s a one or zero. That’s actually called
frequency 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 waves
with binary information have to get from my phone
to the router. But then at the router,
they have to be turned
into something else that can go out
the back of that device along cables to get
to their next location. Depending on what
the wire is made of, it’s either gonna be
pulses of electricity if the wire is copper,
or pulses of laser light. Sundeep:
So, it’s a laser
and 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 went
from 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 out
of the back of our router connect to other wires
inside out office, which are owned by our
internet service provider – or ISP.
– Alex: Okay. And they’re responsible
for looking at the header of each of those envelopes and figuring out
the 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 building
I’ve ever seen. Greg Sisk: Well, it started as
Western Union’s headquarters. So, it supported telegraph
operators back in the day, and it’s migrated to today where it’s supporting
the internet – here in lower Manhattan.
– That’s poetic. So all those wires all need
to come to a place like this to connect between networks. So, for our example, our ISP
in the office has a network. And AT&T, which is
Christophe’s cell provider,
has a network. And in order for my e-mail
to get from my phone into Christophe’s phone, all of those networks have
to send those ones and zeros across those wire pathways. There’s so much that happens in that split second
that you connect. So there’s really
no such thing as a cloud or any type of magnanimous– – The cloud is a marketing term.
– Yeah. Cleo: The thing that
I find really amazing is that, like, my e-mail is one
of the millions of messages flowing through these cables. That feels really abstract,
but it’s actually– there’s a message
to somebody’s mom and there’s
a college application and there’s a job offer. And there’s a dank meme
in here somewhere.( music playing )Okay, so my e-mail became
a series of waves of light that travels over the tubes
of the internet. But what if I wanted to send it
somewhere really far away? Somewhere on the other side
of the world? We’re in
Newington, New Hampshire,
to go to a factory that’s gonna show us
how the internet works
at 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-built
cable 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 process
is actually really simple. Light goes in
on one side of the ocean and comes out on the other. So, as the Decisive moves
across the ocean, the internet cable
is gonna come out the back and be laid down behind it. And sometimes it’s gonna
be buried in the ocean floor by that machine right there. But most of the time
it’s just gonna lay there on the bottom of the ocean. So, these are the two types
of cable that we have,
the two basic types. So this one, this is called
lightweight cable. So that’s the one
that we would use
in the middle of the ocean. And then this piece
is the stuff that we use the plow to install
and actually bury. And the cable is engineered
to be super strong
in a lot of ways, but it is also very delicate
in 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 are
so few fibers? We’re working on trying
to put more fibers
inside the cable to get more data
into each fiber to make it so that we can send more
information than what
we 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 doing
is we’re loading it
into the tank in a continuous spool, right? Is it, like, 10 tons,
50 tons? Oh, we’re loading
ten tons in a day. Cleo:
Oh, my God. Cool. Alysia: It’s gonna end up being
about 60 days of plowing. – Wow.
– Yeah. Alysia:So, 70 days total
to prep and install it.
Okay, on the highway you have
two 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 cables
of the internet so that we can see
where they go. Christophe, you get Africa, and I’ll give you
part of Europe. Joss: I love the one
that goes across
the Great Lakes. Cleo: You guys wanna see
what the internet
actually looks like? – Yeah, totally do.
– Okay. – Whoa.
– Wow. – Whoa!
– That’s crazy. Oh, there’s, like,
all this metal in here. Seems like a shark
could take a bite out
of 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 video
of a shark biting a cable like this
of 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 video
went viral in 2014, the Internet Cable
Protection Committee, released this report
that has my favorite title
of any report of all time, which is
“Sharks are not the Nemesis
of the Internet.” The vast majority of faults
are 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 connection
with the world. Cleo: In January 2019,
experts believe that an oil tanker
dragged an anchor across
the seabed here, which of course caused a really
big 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 days
to get the internet back. – 13 days.
– Long days and nights. That’s a long time. So if you live in one of these
heavily connected places like the United States or many,
many other parts of the world, it is very, very unlikely that an anchor cutting
a part of your internet is gonna interrupt
your service. But what happened in Tonga
does call attention to how important
this 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 tools
were not part of my daily life. It’s kind of sad
that it’s not something
that’s available to everyone. Yeah, exactly. There are lots
of people that still don’t have reliable internet
access 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 Nevada
to see a company that’s helping more people
get access to the internet. But before we get there,
I have some maps to show you. This is a basic map
of the internet backbone
in the United States. You can tell just
by looking at this map why it might be that
some people have a hard time getting low cost,
high speed internet. Companies aren’t as incentivized
to lay fiber optic cabling where there are fewer people
there to pay them for it. The same applies
to low income areas. This map shows the areas
that researchers call uneconomic for companies in red, meaning that the typical
monthly costs exceed the expected
monthly revenue. In many of these red areas,
people only have one or two options for
internet service providers, meaning that those service
providers can jack up the costs. The darker the country,
the more people there are paying
for internet service. So there’s a lot of variety
around the world and even within countries
in terms of who has access to the internet
and at what cost, and that has a huge impact
on people.( music playing )If you haven’t heard about 5G, get ready for a faster
internet connection. Man: 5G could end up
being 100 times faster than what we have now. Instead of having a cell tower
every few miles, – Woman: Yeah.
– 5G requires that
we literally need an antenna
on every square block. Okay, hold on. What really is 5G
and why would it be so fast? Well, remember
those radio waves? One of the major innovations
of 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’s
easier to block those waves. I mean, visible light is
very high frequency and I can block it with my hand. That’s not a problem
for fiber optic cables because they’re basically
long glass laser light tunnels. But 5G has to reach you
wirelessly wherever you are, so that would mean
they would need a lot more physical infrastructure. Of course, new infrastructure
costs money. Companies have
the same incentives for where to put 5G
that they had before. Cities, not rural areas, rich communities,
not poor ones. So 5G could be an exciting way
to improve internet service for people who have
fast access already. But the tech required
means it’s unlikely to help
people 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 focused
on the unconnected
and 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 actually
launch a balloon today, because there was
a huge storm yesterday, which kind of also
goes to show how finicky
a lot of this stuff is. But what you have to imagine is that there’s
a balloon in there and then it launches
from that large red thing
up into the sky, and it uses stratospheric winds to navigate
to its next location, which could be on
the other side of the world.( music playing )So, you can see a number
of balloons over here in South America,
and you can see what altitude they’re at,
like, at 60,000 feet, and basically
where they’re flying.( music playing )This is the hatchery.
This is where we build and test all
of our flight systems before they
go out to launch. – So this is the balloon.
– This is the balloon. And then the part that flies
with the balloon– – It’s this flight system
here and the solar panels.
– Got it. And the brains of it
are in that box… – This box?
– …that’s being cooled by
those fans right now. And so what we do
is we put a ground station in a point of vantage
where it can see the sky. And then from there,
it can actually talk to
one 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 some
of the best examples that you’ve been most
excited about where– Yeah, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico
and the Caribbean Islands, we were able to fly balloons
over the top of Puerto Rico. And within a couple weeks,
we were able to serve about a quarter million
subscribers. – Wow.
– And it’s enough to know that a user on the ground was able to get out
a text message or an e-mail or a note to a loved one
or something like that.( music playing )Amazon has Project Kupier
and SpaceX has Starlink. It seems like
this is becoming something
that more and more – companies are focusing on.
– Yeah, absolutely. The more the merrier,
because there’s a lot
of people to connect. Cleo: These are all space
or near space systems that use radio waves to get
people access to the internet. And that’s one reason
why it’s unlikely that they’re gonna replace
good old cables. Radio waves and laser light and all of these different
types of technology that help us get access
to the internet all in the end
need to work together. We don’t seek to replace fiber
or replace satellites. They’re very complementary
technologies. Going into space
is still a new thing. I’m pretty confident
about 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 part
of this massive, crucial, sometimes infuriating
global community. So as you check the news
or message a friend or watch a YouTube video,
consider this, our connections
have never been virtual. They’re physical,
and they’re still very much
a work in progress. Hey. Want more episodes
of “Glad You Asked”? You can find them here, and you can find more
from YouTube Learning here. “Glad You Asked,”
“YouTube Learning.” “Glad You Asked,”
“YouTube Learning.”

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