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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Broken undersea cables providing data services to parts of the Middle East and Asia should be completed by Sunday

Three undersea cables seen fixed by weekend
Repairs on two out of three broken undersea cables providing data services to parts of the Middle East and Asia should be completed by Sunday, while the third should be fixed by Saturday, cable operators said.

Undersea cable connections were disrupted off Egypt's northern coast last week when segments of two international cables were cut, affecting Internet access in the Gulf region and South Asia, and forcing service providers to re-route traffic.

A third undersea cable, FALCON, was later reported broken between Dubai and Oman.

Cable network operator FLAG Telecom, a wholly-owned unit of India's No. 2 mobile operator Reliance Communications, said on Thursday repair work on a section of the FLAG Europe-Asia cable between Egypt and Italy and on the FALCON cable system was progressing steadily and was likely to finish by February 10.

Separately, India's Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, which co-owns SEA-ME-WE 4, the second cable cut near Egypt, expected repair work there to be over in a maximum of two days, a company official said.

Last Friday VSNL said it had restored a majority of its internet connectivity into the Middle East and South Asia within 24 hours of the breakdown using other SEA-ME-WE cables.

Egypt lost more than half its Internet capacity because of the breaks last week and the telecommunications ministry said last weekend it did not expect services to be back to normal for at least 10 days.

UAE telecom firm du said on Monday its Internet and telephone services were largely back to normal after it used a terrestrial cable across Saudi Arabia to circumvent the problem.

In India, Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers Association, said some problems remained as cable operators had not rerouted all the traffic on alternative routes.
"Lot of issues are still there till the cables are fixed," he said.

FLAG said there had been some interruption in links to London but it had transferred customers to alternate paths.

The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of 86 submarine cable operators dedicated to safeguarding submarine cables, says more than 95 percent of transoceanic telecoms and data traffic are carried by undersea cables.

Conspiracy theories abound over cut cables

Conspiracy theorists are hard at work in forums around the world, after three undersea internet cables were cut within four days.
Bloggers and commentators have fingered various governments, terrorist groups and, tongue firmly in cheek, sea-monsters, for the outages.

The drama began on 30 January when Flag Telecom detected that one of its cables between Egypt and Italy had been damaged, and worsened two days later when another running between Dubai and Oman was also cut.

The two cables together carried up to 70% of internet traffic between Europe and Asia, and their loss caused dramatic slowdowns in access from within the Middle East.

The disruption was alleviated by re-routing traffic via other routes, and is likely to be completely rectified soon as Flag Telecom's

repair ships have already reached both locations.

Initially these cuts were blamed on a ship laying anchor atop the cables in bad weather, but conspiracy theories started to emerge after the Egyptian Government claimed that no ships were present at the time.

"A marine transport committee investigated the traffic of ships in the area, 12 hours before and after the malfunction, where the cables are located to figure out the possibility of being cut by a passing vessel and found out there were no passing ships at that time," says a statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

On 1 February another cable, not operated by FLAG Telecom, was reportedly cut off the coast of Dubai, affecting traffic in the United Arab Emirates.

Reports of a fourth cable loss were quickly explained as a temporary power-supply problem, and swiftly rectified.

We contacted FLAG Telecom, but a spokesperson was unwilling to comment on the reason behind the failures, or how repairs were progressing.

Although it is unusual to have so many cables damaged within such a short amount of time, the first two cables lay within 400 yards of each other, so could easily have been damaged by the same event.

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