Internet Failure Hits
Asia, Middle East and North Africa
Businesses Struggling to Cope
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — High-technology services across large tracts of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa were crippled Thursday following a widespread Internet failure which brought many businesses to a standstill and left others struggling to cope.
Industry experts are blaming damage to two undersea cables but it is not known what caused the damage.
Reports say that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain Pakistan and India, are all experiencing severe problems.
Nations that have been spared the chaos include Israel — whose traffic uses a different route — and Lebanon and Iraq. Many Middle East governments have backup satellite systems in case of cable failure.
Stephan Beckert, an analyst with TeleGeography, a research company that consults on global Internet issues, said the damaged cables collectively account for the majority of international communications between Europe and the Middle East.
Du, a state-owned Dubai telecom provider, attributed the outage to an undersea cable cut between Alexandria, Egypt and Palermo, Italy, according to an internal memo obtained by CNN.
In India, Spectranet and Telecomasia.net, two large Internet service providers were experiencing problems. Reliance, a third major Indian Internet provider, said it was not affected.
An official at Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, speaking on condition of anonymity told AP it was believed that a boat's anchor may have caused the problems, although this was unconfirmed. Beckert agreed that was a likely cause.
The head of an Egyptian Internet service provider called the situation a "wake-up call" for the region, which he said is too dependent on underground lines and does not have a strong enough back-up system. Mohammed Amir, head of Quantum, an ISP in Cairo, described the situation as "a major problem," but expressed hope that the worst of it is over.
The two cables damaged are FLAG Telecom's FLAG Europe-Asia cable and SeaMeWe-4, a cable owned by a consortium of more than a dozen telecommunications companies, Beckert said.
He added the options while those cables are repaired were re-routing traffic around the globe or using an older undamaged cable that has less capacity — both of which would cause usage delays.
Kuwait's Ministry of Communications said the problem could take two weeks to solve, according to a statement carried by the state news agency, KUNA.
There were concerns in India that an Internet slowdown could affect trading patterns at the country's two major exchanges, the National Stock Exchange (NSE) in Delhi and the SENSEX exchange in Bombay.
Rajesh Chharia, president of India's Internet Service Providers' Association, explained that some firms were trying to reroute via Pacific cables and that companies serving the eastern US and the UK were worst affected, AP added.
Besides the Internet, the outage caused major disruption to television and phone services, creating chaos for the UAE's public and private sectors.
The Du internal memo called the situation in Dubai "critical" and stated that the cable's operators did not know when services would be restored.
"This will have a major impact on our voice and Internet service for all the customers," the memo stated. "The network operation team are working with our suppliers overseas to resolve this as soon as possible."
The outage led to a rapid collapse of a wide range of public services in a country which proudly promotes itself as a technological pioneer.
Sources from Emirates Airlines confirmed to CNN Arabic that the outage did not affect its flight schedules — a statement which assured hundreds of travelers worried after rumors about the possibility of rescheduled flights due to the faults.
However, Dnata, a government group in charge of providing air travel services in the Middle East and ground handling services at Dubai International Airport, acknowledged facing problems because of the outage, sources from its technical department confirmed to CNN Arabic.
The outage heavily crippled Dubai's business section, which is heavily reliant on electronic means for billions of dollars' worth of transactions daily.
Wadah Tahah, the business strategies and development manager for state-owned construction company EMAAR, told CNN Arabic that it was fortunate the outage started Wednesday, when there had been only moderate activity in the UAE markets. He said that softened the blow to business interests.
But Tahah warned that if the outage continued, "such a situation could create problems between brokers, companies, and investors due to loss of control."
CNN's Elham Nakhlawi, Mustafa Al Arab, and Caroline Faraj in Dubai, Tess Eastment in New Delhi, and Aneesh Raman in Cairo contributed to this report.
Ruptures Call Safety of
Internet Cables into Question
HEATHER TIMMONS / International Herald Tribune 4feb2008
NEW DELHI — Four undersea communication cables have been cut in the past week, raising questions about the safety of the oceanic network that handles the bulk of the world's Internet and telephone traffic.
Most telecommunications experts and cable operators say that sabotage seems unlikely, but no one knows what damaged the cables or whether the incidents were related.
One theory - that a wayward ship traveling off course because of bad weather was responsible for cutting the first two cables last week - was dismissed by the Egyptian government over the weekend.
No ships passed the area in the Mediterranean where the cables were located, the country's Ministry of Communications said Sunday.
"This has been an eye-opener for us, and everyone in the telecom industry worldwide," said Colonel R.S. Parihar, the secretary of the Internet Service Providers Association of India.
Today, the cause of the problem may have been an anchor, "but what if it is sabotage tomorrow?" Parihar asked.
"These are owned by private operators, and there are no governments or armies protecting these cables."
Most recently, a cable operated by Qatar's Q-Tel, which linked Qatar to the United Arab Emirates through the islands of Haloul and Das, was cut Friday.
Communications in the Middle East have been hardest hit by the damage, though India, the United States and Europe also experienced slowdowns.
Telecommunications operators have been trying to diversify the routes they can use for transmissions in recent years, said Alan Mauldin, research director with TeleGeography Research, particularly since an earthquake in Taiwan in 2006 disrupted service in Asia.
The cable network contains "choke points" - like those off the coast of Egypt and Singapore where many cables run - and operators need to make sure their transmission routes are diversified, he said.
Adel al Mutawa, a spokesman for Q-Tel, said Qatar was operating at about 60 percent of telephone capacity Monday, but that Internet and data transmission services were working at normal speed.
Most telecommunications companies affected by the cuts during the past week rerouted service through other cables.
Q-Tel will not know what caused the Qatar-UAE Submarine Cable System rupture until it sends a repair ship to pull the cable off the ocean floor, Mutawa said.
Undersea cables carry about 95 percent of the world's telephone and Internet traffic, according to the International Cable Protection Committee, an 86-member group that works with fishing, mining and drilling companies to curb damage to submarine cables.
Information travels faster and less expensively under the ocean than it does via satellite, and undersea cable transmission is gaining market share, the group said.
The Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said Sunday that no ships had passed through the area in the Mediterranean where two cables, known as the Sea Me We 4 and Flag's Europe-Asia cable, were cut earlier last week.
"The site is a restricted area, which excludes the possibility that the malfunction resulted from a crossing ship," the ministry said in a statement. Internet efficiency in Egypt has reached about 70 percent, the statement said.
A third cable, known as Falcon, was cut Friday morning about 55 kilometers, or 35 miles, off the coast of Dubai in the Gulf. Wet, windy weather in some areas around the Gulf has shut ports and delayed ships.
Two of the damaged cables, the Flag Europe-Asia cable and Falcon, are owned by Flag Telecom, a subsidiary of Indian conglomerate Reliance ADA Group.
Flag Telecom has never had two cables down at the same time in the region, a spokesman, Vineet Kumar, said.
Flag Telecom's network is one of the "newest in existence" so it would be unlikely that the cables would break because of wear and tear or age.