Internet Disruption in the Middle East May Last 10 Days

Arab News
ALKHOBAR, Feb 1:  Disruption to communications in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East and South Asia continues due to a cut in two submarine cables in the Mediterranean Sea.

Both the FLAG and SEA-ME-WE 4 undersea cables have been cut, off the coast of Egypt near Alexandria. Some reports claim that the cut was caused by a ship’s anchor, but neither cable operator has confirmed the reason for the outage.

Regarding the SEA-ME-WE 4 cable, a spokesperson for Alcatel-Lucent said: “Cable damages of this kind normally happen because of seismic activity, earthquakes or anchoring issues. Until the cable is brought back to the surface, the exact cause cannot be determined. The maintenance consortium responsible for repair is taking the needed steps.”

There is no definite time specified for the repair but early indications are that at least 10 days and perhaps two weeks will be needed to bring both cables back to full service. The Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG), is a 28,000 km long submarine communications cable owned by India’s Reliance Communications Ltd.

SEA-ME-WE 4, or the Southeast Asia-Middle East-West Europe 4 project, is a submarine cable system spanning about 20,000 km and linking Southeast Asia to Europe via the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East. The SEA-ME-WE 4 Consortium is made up of 16 international telecommunications carriers, including Emirates Telecommunication Corporation (Etisalat), Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) and Telecom Egypt (TE).

Estimates have put disruption of Egypt’s nationwide Internet network as high as 70 percent. India is thought to have suffered up to 60 percent disruption. In Saudi Arabia, there is no official estimate of the damage to Internet services, but a manager at one local Internet service provider (ISP) believed that “the Kingdom is struggling to cope with a situation worse than that created by the Algerian earthquake in 2003.”

Throughout the region there are reports that business operations from international stock trading to call centers have been affected by the diminished availability of connectivity. As companies become aware that communication is difficult online, many are switching to telephone systems.

Several Saudi businessmen reported that yesterday afternoon, when placing telephone calls to Europe, their efforts were met again and again with the recorded message “all lines in this route are busy.”

In the coming week, communication across the region will be challenging. It is expected that the problem will grow as companies return to business in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and try to use online services.

With additional regional business hubs coming online Sunday, Internet service will be seriously compromised for home users.

To enable businesses to survive the crisis, ISPs will be forced to make the majority of international bandwidth available to business subscribers with home users facing extremely slow browsing. Web-based e-mail providers, such as Yahoo! and Hotmail, will not be easy to access during peak hours.


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Comment on this article

  • michael sreshta, usa

    Fri, Feb 01 2008

    IF these cables can be damaged by an anchor , and disrupt the internet in south asia. what security mesures are in place to avoid a terrorist attack

    DisAgree Agree Reply Report Abuse

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