Cable damage hits India, Qatar and UAE hardest

UPDATE 2: UAE and Qatari telecom operators say measures being taken to limit disruption.
Cable damage hits India, Qatar and UAE hardest
By Dylan Bowman
Sat 20 Dec 2008 10:00 AM

Damage to three major undersea cables seriously disrupted more than half of internet and phone services between Europe, the Middle East and Asia on Friday, with India, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates the worst affected, France Telecom said.

The telecom operator said initial estimates show 82 percent of service to India was disrupted, while 73 percent of service to Qatar and 68 percent to the UAE was affected.

Around 50 percent of service to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt was also disrupted, it said.

"The causes of the cut, which is located in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia, on sections linking Sicily to Egypt, remain unclear," France Telecom said in a statement on its website.

The company said a ship set off in the early hours of Saturday morning to fix the lines, but that it would not arrive until Monday and that it could take until Dec. 31 until normal service was restored.

UAE telecom Etisalat said it had taken "precautionary measures to ensure the flow of internet services", state news agency WAM reported, citing a company statement.

"Etisalat was able to use alternative routes shortly after the disruption of the three international cables, thereby ensuring the continuity and smooth flow of internet services in the UAE," the statement said.

Du, the UAE's second telecom, said it had re-routed data and international voice traffic east through alternative cable systems.

"The top 50 voice destinations are now unaffected and only 15 percent degradation overall remains. Internet capacity is reduced but again additional capacity is being activated to the east which will restore performance to more normal levels," the company said in a statement. Qatari telecom Qtel said loss of capacity in Qatar was being kept below 47 percent and the country "is only experiencing limited effects".

"Qtel’s network of alternative transmission routes and back-up cables has ensured that Qatar has remained connected," the company said in a statement.

However, it did warn users might experience some slowdown in internet speed and access problems until the cables were repaired.

Kuwait's Ministry of Communications said the damage had affected internet service and some international communications in the Gulf state, state news agency KUNA reported.

The ministry said it had "contacted local, regional and international parties to secure communications' alternatives to provide the service".

France Telecom spokesman Louis-Michel Aymard was quoted by newswire AFP as saying the cuts were unlikely to be an attack. He said the cables could have got caught up in trawlers' nets or there could have been an underwater landslide.

Aymard said one of the cables seems to have been severed, while the other two seem to have been only partially cut.

The cables are jointly owned by several dozen different countries. One of the cables is 40,000 km long and links 33 different countries while a second is 20,000 km long and serves 14 states.

In January, five cables in the Middle East and Europe were cut, causing severe internet disruption across the Middle East and Asia.

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