Construction on the main body of a $500 million fiber-optic submarine cable directly linking the Chinese mainland and the United States formally started Monday in Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong.
The undersea cable, scheduled for completion by next July, could help avoid possible Internet breakdowns caused by frequent earthquakes off China's Taiwan coast.
It will also be used to transmit high-definition TV programs during next year's Beijing Olympic Games.
Investment in the cable, known as Trans-Pacific Express (TPE), is by a consortium formed by six telecoms operators - China Telecom, China Netcom and China Unicom on the Chinese mainland, Chunghwa Telecom of Taiwan, Korea Telecom (KT) and Verizon Business of the United States.
Most undersea cables were previously laid through the maritime areas off southern Taiwan. A powerful earthquake off the Taiwan coast on December 26, 2006 cut off six undersea cables, causing severe Internet congestion around Asia, including China, and affecting international phone calls.
It took operators more than one month to restore communications and during that time they had to re-route Internet traffic via landline cables connecting China and Europe, and use costly satellite transmission.
TPE, with a total length of 26,000 km, will not pass by the earthquake zone near Taiwan, and be more secure, China Netcom said.
It is also expected to significantly ease the strain on Internet networks caused by rapid growth in the number of users in China and the US.
China Netcom said Sino-US communication services account for more than half of China's total international business.
TPE will provide greater capacity and higher speeds to meet the increase in demand for Internet, data and voice communications between the US and Asia, it said.
TPE will have landing points at Nedonna Beach, Oregon, on the US West Coast; and points at Qingdao; Chongming, an island off Shanghai; Tanshui, Taiwan; and Keoje, the Republic of Korea.
A China Telecom spokesperson said the company had already started laying TPE cables in some parts of Shanghai.
China Netcom is betting on the TPE to transmit Olympic TV programs next year.
"With the adequate bandwidth, we will use both undersea cable and satellites to ensure high-quality communications services during the Olympics," said Zhao Jidong, deputy general manager of China Network Communications Group Corp, parent of Hong Kong-listed Netcom Group Corp (Hong Kong) Ltd.
China Netcom said it has conducted trials of high-definition TV transmission via broadband Internet with telecom operators in Japan and South Korea.
In 2005, Netcom signed a deal with Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co Ltd (BOB), a joint venture between BOCOG and Olympic Broadcasting Services, to provide TV transmission services.
Since then it had clinched service agreements with a number of companies including the European Broadcasting Union, Deutsche Telekom and Australia's Telstra.