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Mon 22 Dec 2008 05:39 PM

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Mother Nature versus Technology

Three cables that are critical to internet and phone services in the Middle East have recently been cut.

In the Mediterranean Sea, near the Alexandria Cable Station in Northern Egypt, three cables that are critical to internet and international phone services in the Middle East and North African region (MENA) region have recently been ‘cut’.

The ‘cut’ resulted in severe disruptions to internet and international phone services in MENA nations such as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt and other nations such as India and the Maldives. The cables carry over 70% of all data traffic between Europe and the Middle East.

This is not the first time there has been a disruption in internet and international phone services in the Middle East. In January and February 2008, four undersea cables were damaged in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf. The FLAG Europe-Asia and the SeaMeWe-4 near Alexandria, FLAG near the Dubai coast and FALCON near Bandar Abbas in Iran were all submarine cables that sustained damage earlier this year.

One of the cables damaged in early 2008 was apparently damaged by a ship’s anchor. The damage to the cables in early 2008 set off a string of conspiracy theories. One such theory was that Al Qaeda cut the cables for their own nefarious purposes, and another theory went along the lines that the US cut the cables in the lead up to an ‘attack’ on Iran.

Intelligence gathering organisations do have a history of interfering with underwater communications cables. During the Cold War, the United States Navy and National Security Agency (NSA) placed wire taps on Soviet underwater communication lines.

But the reality is that Mother Nature more than likely had a hand in this recent incident where the cables were damaged in the Mediterranean Sea. At the time of writing, there is no clear evidence of what exactly caused the damage to these cables, but many people are suggesting that the damage could have been caused by under-water earthquakes or landslides. This is one of the reasons why there are entire teams of ships out in the Mediterranean Sea that maintain cables that regularly get cut or damaged.

What is more fascinating about this issue is that much of our world has become so reliant upon internet and international phone services that it potentially takes a single geographical disturbance to disrupt the lives of many people who have become dependent on technology to work and live.

It is also ironic that these telecommunication technologies are designed to circumvent geography, that is minimise the ‘space and time’ it takes for us to communicate over long distances, and yet we are so dependent upon ‘mother nature’s good mood’ to ensure that these services are not disrupted. It seems that as much as we have gone some way in becoming hi-tech, much of our technology is still inextricably tied to the forces of nature.

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Martin 10 years ago

It is even more ironic if you think that we make our so important communications dependent upon ‘mother nature’s good mood’ or better just a few cables. In the meantime we should have better routing technology or ways to have a better redundance.

Davie 10 years ago

It funny that the UAE operators are using VoIP for international telecoms links yet legitimate businesses in the UAE still cannot.