How Does TeleGeography Make Their Submarine Cable Map?

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How does one go about keeping track of nearly 400 submarine cable systems and over 1,000 landing stations?

Carefully, with lots of precise, year-round tracking, as it turns out.

Today, TeleGeography’s mapmakers share their experiences designing their annual submarine cable map, as well as the interactive

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, and Neither Was the TeleGeography Submarine Cable Map

Different maps have different timelines. For TeleGeography’s flagship submarine cable map, it takes almost an entire year to conceptualize, design, and proof this annual piece. Collecting inspiration is 24/7 affair, but the team generally decides on a theme and aesthetic by October of a calendar year.

For the next six months, Head Designer and Cartographer Larry Lairson and Vice President of Systems and Design Markus Krisetya lead the way, drafting new takes—and often, new cables.

Leveraging the submarine cable expertise of Alan Mauldin and Tim Stronge, by the beginning of the next year a final draft takes shape. Soon after a design has the green light, the process moves from TeleGeography’s Washington, DC office to Milwaukee, where most of their maps are printed.

By the spring, there will be a refreshed map for the masses.

Let’s Get Technical

To get a little technical, the team uses Adobe Illustrator to draw submarine cable paths between landing points and finesse final designs.

They also use the GIS plugin MAPublisher from Avenza to geo-reference every piece of artwork, fusing the team’s creative ideas to hard data.

In 2013, Markus and Larry cleverly began using Illustrator’s Javascript API to automate labor-intensive design jobs. Many of the infographics that pop up in TeleGeography’s work are generated programmatically, allotting mapmakers more time to cook up their next big idea.

On the interactive front, landing points are geocoded on a Mercator base map, again using MAPublisher. This allows us to export two data sets: KML for the submarine cable lines, and Points for the landing points.

The team uploads the two datasets into Google’s Fusion Tables, a free (and experimental) feature from Google.

TeleGeography uses Google’s Maps API v3 to transform the Google Fusion Tables into two separate map layers of cable routes and landing points. The interactivity on the map is driven by javascript and was written in-house at TeleGeography.

If you’d like to geek out further (and who among us wouldn’t?) visit their GitHub page for the Submarine Cable Map, where you can learn more about the code, see how it all works, and download the raw data.

Printing Out the Internet

Once designs are finalized for the printed maps, TeleGeography prints the hard copies on an off-set printer. There are only a few places in the United States where there are printers large enough for the designs.

Over the years TeleGeography has developed a happy collaboration with a group of printers clustered around the greater Milwaukee area. They’ve found paper manufacturers, paper folding companies, silkscreen companies, and many others in the area who have taken TeleGeography maps from their computer screens to your walls.

You can read more about it in this interview with Markus.

Twenty Years of Telecom History

If you’d like to look at more of TeleGeography’s favorite—and most famous—maps from the last two decades, you can peruse this new resource.

Inside you’ll find early editions of TeleGeography’s famed Submarine Cable Map, Global Internet Map, Global Voice Traffic Map, and specialty regional designs that zero in on connectivity in specific parts of the world. This book also shares insight from the experts who painstakingly craft these art pieces every year, as well as the companies and telecom professionals who make many of these maps possible.

You can also hear lots more about submarine cables from TeleGeography’s Alan Mauldin during day two of Submarine Networks World in Singapore September 24-26, 2018.

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