Internet faces go slow after cable damage

Damage to two underwater cables in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday (30 January) has slowed Internet connections throughout the Middle East and in parts of Asia to a crawl.

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Damage to two underwater cables in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday (30 January) has slowed Internet connections throughout the Middle East and in parts of Asia to a crawl.

"These links carry most of India's premium traffic to the Atlantic region, resulting in a disruption of about 50 to 60 percent of the bandwidth from India on Wednesday when the cables were first damaged," said Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers' Association of India (ISPAI), in an interview Thursday.

The damage will leave UK businesses with substantial offshore call centre and data processing facilities worried about the quality of service can they provide.

India's second largest outsourcer, Infosys Technologies, said that its Internet service had not been affected by the outage in the Middle East. The company uses a lot of redundant links from a variety of service providers, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Another large Indian outsourcer, Satyam Computer Services, of Hyderabad, said that even as the links went down in the Middle East, the company automatically switched over voice and Internet traffic to networks from other service providers.

A lot of Satyam's traffic that used to go through the Middle East links is now being routed through Singapore. " We are seeing an increase in latency in MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) from 280 milliseconds to 310 milliseconds, and in Internet traffic from 300 to 350 milliseconds, which isn't a big problem," said Srinivasu C, head of network and systems at Satyam.

The damaged cables, one operated by Flag Telecom and the other by a consortium of 15 telecommunications operators, account for 75 percent of the network capacity between Europe and the Middle East, according to Stephan Beckert, an analyst with TeleGeography Research.

A third cable was undamaged, but it is older and has far less capacity than the others, he said.

Operators believe the damage was caused by ship anchors during a heavy storm at sea, Beckert said.

AT&T confirmed that its service to some areas of the Middle East was affected, but said it was now re-routing traffic. Etisalat, the telecommunications provider in the United Arab Emirates, reported that both Internet traffic and international voice calls were affected by the incident. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and all of the Gulf states were affected, Beckert said.

As much as 70 percent of Egypt’s Internet network was down, and over half of India's bandwidth was cut due to the disruption, according to a report from Reuters that cited local officials.

Most of the major operators have backup plans in place for this type of incident, Beckert said. In this case, they'll have to route traffic from the Middle East to Asia, across the Pacific Ocean, through the US and then across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, he said. That will result in latency problems that will likely lead to sluggish connections until the cables are repaired, he said. The operators in the Middle East told him that they should be able to repair the damages in one to two weeks.

The accident should affect mainly Internet traffic. Voice calls travel over the same cables, but operators will give priority to the voice calls, which take up relatively little capacity but produce more revenue than data traffic.