On June 7th Ethio Telecom announced that customers will face an internet slow down or degradation. It was unclear what caused the problem. The company sent the following message on its social media platforms.
The message said that the company had some issues with their international gateway outside the borders of Ethiopia and that they are currently operating on a backup line.
What really happened?
Cloudflare stated on their blog “Just after 1200 UTC on Tuesday, June 7, the Africa-Asia-Europe-1 (AAE-1) and SEA-ME-WE-5 (SMW-5) submarine cables suffered cable cuts. The damage reportedly occurred in Egypt, and impacted Internet connectivity for millions of Internet users across multiple countries in the Middle East and Africa, as well as thousands of miles away in Asia. In addition, Google Cloud Platform and OVHcloud reported connectivity issues due to these cable cuts.”
What could possibly cut the submarine cables?
Well, what caused the cut is not exactly known but just like other outages, the best guesses are a shark attack or damage might have occurred by a fishing trawler during a fishing trawl. There have been major outages of submarine cables around Egypt in the past 2 years.
Why did it take this long to fix?
Fixing submarine cables is tedious work, it takes days sometimes weeks to diagnose the problem and pinpoint the exact location of the damage in a really big sea. Sometimes cables might be located farther below the surface of the ocean than Mount Everest is tall, making repairs time-consuming.
What are the solutions and future preventions?
Well, damage to submarine cables can’t be predicted, it can happen to any cable at any place at any time. The best that can be done is to build a redundant infrastructure so that services will not be affected.
Ethio Telecom has a very strong and redundant local infrastructure, but it does not have the same strong and redundant international interconnections. Since Ethiopia is a land-locked country the international gateway is managed by Djibouti Telecom. hence they are the ones who provide Ethiopia with backup bandwidth from other cables in case of an outage or disruption.
The solution I believe would be to tap into as many submarine cables as possible to build redundancy, especially the new upcoming ones SEAMEWE-6 and PEACE. Provided that the consortiums are willing and adequate compensation is paid to them. A good location to tap these cables would be at Assab, Eritrea, because of the fact that almost all cables in the region pass through the Red Sea, and it has multiple geographical advantages in addition to being easily accessible.