Internet crisis deepens

Third undersea cable break between UAE and Oman adds to web woes after two breaks just days earlier.
By Sumeet Chatterjee, Devidutta Tripathy and Hiral Vora
Sat 02 Feb 2008 11:32 AM

A third undersea cable has been cut after breaks near Egypt earlier this week disrupted web access in parts of the Middle East and Asia, Indian-owned cable network operator Flag Telecom said on Friday.

Flag, a wholly-owned subsidiary of India's number two mobile operator Reliance Communications, said in a statement on its website its Falcon cable had been reported cut at 0559 GMT, 56 kilometres from Dubai on a segment between the UAE and Oman.

"The repair ship has been notified and expected to arrive at the site in [the] next few days," Flag said, adding it was arranging for customer circuits to be restored.

Undersea cable connections were disrupted off Egypt's northern coast on Wednesday, affecting internet access in the Gulf region and south Asia, and forcing service providers to reroute traffic.

The Internet Service Providers' Association of India said earlier on Friday cable repair ships had been sent to fix the breaches, which are in segments of two intercontinental cables known as SEA-ME-WE-4 and Flag Europe-Asia.

Flag said a repair ship was expected to arrive at that site by February 5 and repair work would be completed a week from then.

Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers' Association, said all of Flag's traffic had now been shifted to the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable network.

Earlier on Friday, Chharia had said India's internet services were operating at about 80% of capacity, but he later told newswire Reuters there were no issues with connectivity at the moment.

Flag's rival, Indian internet service provider Videsh Sanchar Nigam (VSNL), said the majority of its internet services to the Middle East and North Africa had been restored within 24 hours, as had services to India.

VSNL said in a statement it had used the SEA-ME-WE-3, SEA-WE-ME-4 eastbound and TIC cable to reroute customer traffic.

India's booming outsourcing industry, which provides a range of back-office services like insurance claims processing and customer support to overseas clients over the internet, have played down the disruption, saying it had back-up plans in place.

"We have not heard of any customer complaints so far because of this," said a spokeswoman for HCL Technologies, which offers IT solutions and back-office services.

The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of 86 submarine cable operators dedicated to safeguarding submarine cables, says more than 95% of transoceanic telecoms and data traffic are carried by submarine cables, and the rest by satellite.

US phone companies Verizon Communications and AT&T both use the cables which were affected on Wednesday. AT&T said on Thursday its networks were already back to normal as it had rerouted traffic and Verizon expected service to be restored for all its customers in a matter of days.

One of the biggest disruptions of modern telecoms systems was in December 2006, when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake broke nine submarine cables between Taiwan and the Philippines, cutting connections between southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

Internet links were thrown out in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines, disrupting the activities of banks, airlines and all kinds of email users.

Traffic was rerouted through other cables, but it took 49 days to restore full capacity. (Reuters)

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