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150 Years of the Cook Strait Cable

On 26 August 1866, New Zealand’s telecommunications took a leap into the future with the successful connection of the Cook Strait Telegraph Cable, says Communications Minister Amy Adams.

“It was a momentous achievement for its time. The successful connection came on the third attempt at laying the cable, and followed a near disaster when the first cable snapped - almost destroying the ship Weymouth in the process,” says Ms Adams.

“Today, there several cables crossing Cook Strait which carry everything from Ultra-Fast Broadband through to landline telephone calls and electricity.

“In 1866, the cable’s speeds were around 18 bits per second – or one stream of Morse Code.”

The cables are part of an extensive network that connects homes to the internet at a speed of up to 1 Gbps, which is around two billion times faster than the first cable was capable of providing 150 years ago.

“The connection of the first Cook Strait cable was a significant step towards creating New Zealand’s telecommunications network.  It’s also a pivotal moment in our history and a point where news and information were able to travel quickly across the nation,” says Ms Adams.

Following this, a network of telegraph stations sprung up across New Zealand and the local telegraph office became an essential hub in most towns. The new technology was instrumental in New Zealand adopting a single time zone.

Today’s under-sea telecommunication cables carry signals at speeds measured in terabits per second (Tbps). One Tbps is equivalent to sending 25 high definition movies every second, and the Cook Strait Cable speeds today are similar to those of the Southern Cross Cable, at around 2.7Tbps.

A second Cook Strait cable was laid in 1890 but the first cable remained in service for 41 years. The first international cable, running between Sydney and Cable Bay (Nelson) was completed in 1876.


Updated on 31st August 2016