Damaged Underwater Cables Are Causing Internet Slowdown in India

underwater cable

If your Internet connection has been acting up lately, it’s because a giant underwater cable which connects India with the rest of the world is undergoing maintenance. It is happening all across South East Asia, Middle East, and Africa.

A slew of undersea cables that connect Asia, Africa and Middle East to Europe has been damaged and is currently undergoing maintenance, according to news reports. The main cause of disruption for SE Asian region was due to a recent damage in a major undersea cable off the coast of Egypt.

The extent of the the damage is currently being assessed and the Indian consortium of telecom operators is likely to take up to 25 days to finish the repairs on the undersea cables that they maintain and service.

On Thursday, Egyptian coastguards had arrested three divers, off the coast of Alexandria, who were found to be cutting through the SeaWeMe-4 (South-east Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4) cable, that runs all the way from Singapore to France. The cable spans around 20,000 Kms and major telecom players in Asia like Tata communication, Bharati, ETISALAT, Singtel and Telecom Egypt are part owners of the cable.

A notice on the SEACOM, the company that controls SeaWeMe-4, website read

SEACOM has been asked if, in light of these reports,  sabotage may have been the cause of the 22 March cuts to our system. We think it is unlikely that the damage to our system was caused by sabotage.  The reasons for this are the specific location, distance from shore, much greater depth, the presence of a large anchored vessel on the fault site which appears to be the cause of the damage and other characteristics of the event.

In India customers of Bharti Airtel, BSNL, TATA communications and MTNL will be mostly affected. According to Bharti Airtel quoted by Livemint, currently only the data communication is affected, the voice communications largely remain unaffected. The Mint report says that the effect is likely to impact communications for at least 2 weeks.

The majority of data communication from India is channeled through undersea cables. These cables span thousands of kilometers and are prone to attack and damage in the open seas. Some of the usual damages occur due to ship anchors that weigh tons, trawlers, natural disasters and in some cases sabotage by miscreants.underwater cableOnce damaged, repairs on these cables take a long time due to their length and the vast expanse of seabed they cover. One of the bigger challenges faced by companies is locating the exact spot of the cable damage.  Usually a Time-domain reflectometer, this instrument can characterize and locate faults in metallic cables, is used in such cases for detection. The devices works by sending a signal through the undersea cable, and then  comparing the captured reflected signal with the original signal using mathematical algorithm. By this method the instrument can tell us the distance to the damage or faults.

We had reported similar widespread internet service disruption that occurred in 2008 and 2011, that had affected internet users in India. The 2011 disruption was again cause due to dames of the coat of Italy on the SeaWeMe-4 cable.

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