The undersea high-speed Internet cable linking eastern and southern Africa to Europe and Asia has suffered a fault, causing online disconnections and disruptions in browsing and Internet banking.
The BBC says the Seacom cable, completed in 2009, connects South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to countries in Europe and Asia. In South Africa, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were down all of Monday, July 5 and internet services have been intermittent since.
Digital Journal contacted Seacom and asked whether the cable had been damaged, as was widely suggested on social media such as Facebook. Writing in an e-mail, Suzanne Jefferies said:
The cable is not cut, there is a fault on the cable. The exact cause of the problem is still being investigated but the current assessment points to a technical issue on the Seacom cable offshore to the north of Mombasa, Kenya.
Jefferies said it was not yet clear what caused the damage to the cable, but explained the procedure that would be followed:
Seacom has initiated emergency repair procedures to replace the repeater. Once mobilised, the repair ship is deployed to the location of the fault to pick up the cable. The cable is then brought on board to undergo the repair – the faulty element is replaced with a new repeater - before being put back in the water.
Jefferies said Seacom was working on other ways of securing broadband access to ISPs:
Until this repair is completed, Seacom has successfully secured a number of restoration options for its clients through other international connectivity providers, including cable networks. This effectively provides customers with alternatives to re-route services and restore connectivity. These restoration solutions are now being actively implemented.
This pointed to the need for more high-speed capable cables to come online in the region, she said:
Seacom is one part of an African Internet build-up and as other cable systems come on line, there will be more redundancy between the systems. Seacom is already in talks with other cable due to land. As more cables reach eastern and southern Africa, the problem of redundancy will be easier to manage as more options become available to reroute capacity during an outage. It is common practice in the industry around the world for cable networks to provide redundancy capacity to one another. Seacom is also working on a number of projects which should be in place within months including the installation of routers with IP MPLS capability on to the landing points of the cable. This would make a switchover to other capacity a lot simpler. In other words, should the same fault reoccur the impact would be far less disruptive. In addition, the finalization of Seacom’s own link between India and Europe would provide further redundancy options
South Africa’s biggest ISP, MWEB, is struggling with supplying its clients as are other ISPs throughout eastern and southern Africa. I asked how long the repairs would take:
Whilst the repair process is expected to last a minimum of six-eight days, the actual duration is unpredictable due to external factors such as transit time of the ship, weather conditions and time to locate the cable.
Broadband internet users in eastern and southern Africa will just have to hope for the while Seacom and ISPs work on alternatives and learn lessons for future outages.