Underwater Internet may be coming to an ocean near you

Researchers are developing a "deep-sea computing network" that could bring Wi-Fi access underwater to better detect tsunamis, collect data, and monitor offshore activity.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
2 min read
University of Buffalo doctoral candidates work on a underwater Internet test in Lake Erie. Douglas Levere/University of Buffalo

Wi-Fi can now be found in Africa's grasslands, around the glaciers of the North Pole, and in airplanes flying high above the Earth's surface, but underwater is one place the Internet still can't go... until now.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York are developing a "deep-sea computing network" that can beam data from submerged sensors in oceans, seas, and lakes to users' wireless devices in real time.

The goal of creating underwater Internet is to help people get a better gauge of what's going on in the oceans' depths. For example, underwater Wi-Fi could help scientists detect tsunamis and send warnings to coastal residents, collect data on water pollution, and monitor offshore oil and natural gas rigs.

"A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time," the project's lead researcher Tommaso Melodia said in a statement. "Making this information available to anyone with a smartphone or computer, especially when a tsunami or other type of disaster occurs, could help save lives."

"We could even use it to monitor fish and marine mammals, and find out how to best protect them from shipping traffic and other dangers," Melodia continued. "An Internet underwater has so many possibilities."

Typical wireless networks use radio waves to transmit data, but that doesn't work in water. Agencies that do use underwater communication, like the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, use sound waves. While sound waves work for sending information that can then be converted into radio waves, it's a lengthy multi-step process.

What Melodia and his team have been working on would streamline the process by transmitting data from submerged sensor networks directly to laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other wireless devices in real time. Recently, the researchers successfully pulled off a test of their underwater computing network in Lake Erie.

While the scientists have made significant progress on their underwater Internet endeavor, the project is still in development. So, it may be awhile before people can do things like look up fish species on their smartphone while snorkeling.