March 2008

Cable outages underscore Internet import

Factories, banks, stock exchanges, and other businesses cease operations without Internet access.

From late January to early February, a submarine cable disruption involving up to five high-speed Internet communications links in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East caused disruptions and slowdowns for users in the Middle East and India.

Depending on who one listens to, the damage was due to ships dragging anchors, an earthquake, or sabotage. 

There were disruptions of 70% in Egypt, 60% in India, and problems in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Kuwait, the Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The Wall Street Journal reported the cuts throttled Egypt's connections hampering international banks and curtailing trading on the country's stock exchange. 

India, whose huge outsourcing industry depends on the Internet, lost half its capacity.

The kinks threw into stark relief the importance of these elaborate cable connections-and their vulnerability. The likely result: Even more fiber building, as  companies and nations in the region seek reliable connections.
Long-haul fiber is the conduit of globalization. Even in a "wireless" era, it is this physical labyrinth of cables that carries the bulk of Internet, wireless, and fixed-line traffic. 

Fiber has eclipsed satellite technology as the main means of long-distance communication, enabling interaction between the world's businesses, governments, and economies.

As Telecom Egypt was scrambling to cope with the cut cables, it announced a $125 million contract to build a subsea network from Egypt to France. 

Nine fiber-cable projects are on the drawing board with plans to go through Egypt, led by operators such as Telecom Italia, Verizon Communications Inc., Telecom Egypt, India's Bharti Enterprises Ltd., and VSNL, also of India.

Undersea cable damage is hardly rare the company reported, and more than 50 repair operations took place in the Atlantic alone last year. While a cut in a cable crossing the Atlantic has "no significant effect" due to the many alternate cables, only a handful of internet cables serve the Middle East.