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Serious Internet Outage Strikes East Africa After Several Undersea Cables are Cut

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 (12:26 pm) - Score 771

Several vital undersea fibre optic cables, which help to link the UK, Europe and Middle East to East Africa with “high-speed” internet access services, have over the past week or two (since 17th Feb 2012) been “cut by malicious people“; though others view it as little more than a series of coincidental “accidents“.

The situation has resulted in a spate of connectivity problems and slow speeds across 9 countries. The latest cable to be cut was Kenya’s own East African Marine Systems (TEAMS) link to Djibouti, which had already been carrying more traffic than usual because of the previous cuts.

An Unnamed Source at Airtel said (Daily Monitor in Uganda):

The Essay and Teams cables were cut by malicious people at the weekend and this is causing connection problems. All internet providers, particularly Orange and Airtel, have been affected because they all depend on these cables for service provision.”

The Kenyan government-funded TEAMS project was completed back in 2009. It delivered faster broadband ISP speeds and more affordable services to several African countries. Three other cables were cut prior to TEAMS, including the prominent EASSY link.

The Recent Cable Cuts
* East African Marine Systems (TEAMS)
* Europe India Gateway (EIG)
* South East Asia Middle East Western Europe-3 (SMW-3)
* Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSY)

The CEO of West Indian Ocean Cable Co. (aka – the largest EASSY shareholder), Chris Wood, informed the Wall Street Journal that the “unusual” damage to EASSY and TEAMS was caused by a ship dragging its anchor off the coast of the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. “I believe these were accidental incidents,” said Wood, although further investigation is required.

It could take up to two weeks for TEAMS to be completely repaired and during that time most of the remaining traffic will be diverted down the Seacom link. Similar cuts have occurred before, such as when Seacom lost its own link during 2010 (here). The situation just goes to show how vulnerable the internet can be to physical cable attacks; 99% of internet traffic uses undersea cables. Greg Mahlknecht runs a useful Cable Map of the area.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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