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  ICT Analysis Europe Asia

Mid East Communication Cables Cut, Companies Lose, Win Internet Providers

Posted: 2008-02-07
From: Mathaba
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MSM (Money Servant Media) coverage of the cable cuts and losses of internet to millions in North Africa and West Asia was cynical and flippant at best, and lazy and incompetent at worst. Be sure to join our Daily Briefing (top right box) so you are in the loop when it matters.

While Israeli media completely ignored all the destructive effects to business and communications of millions in its Arab neighboring countries, did not gloat, comment or report, but just simply ignored it; and the Europeans and North American media reported on the events in superficial manner preferring to blame non-existent "ships anchors", it was only Mathaba and a handful of independent media that made an effort to investigate, report and cover the story.

Given our own limited resources we did our best to cover the issue, while juggling between submissions that were yet inadequately researched, rushing against deadlines, and ensuring we also covered the angles that the MSM Media refused to, while our efforts have once again been appreciated by our readers who have given us positive feedback. We remind those of you new to Mathaba to join our daily briefing and to let others also know of this service.

Rumors started that Iran was "totally cut off" but these rumors could have easily been verified as false with a little more effort. While Iran was affected, it seems around 80% of it's Internet remained intact and no problems were detected on official sites. We initially reported Lebanon as unaffected, but data shows 40% of users lost connection there.

The FLAG Telecom cable cut off the coast of Egypt, and the SEA-ME-WE-4 Consortium's cable cut affected an estimated 6 million users in India (10%), 9 million users in Pakistan (70%), 4 million in Egypt (70%), 0.6 million in Saudi Arabia (15%), and 0.6 million in UAE (30%), Syria 0.3 million (20%), Lebanon 0.4 million (40% of users) and we estimate 4 million users out of 20 million in Iran (20%). Only Israel and US-occupied Iraq were unaffected as they use other cable routes.

Algeria and Sudan were also affected, each with 1 million or 35% of users being cut off. In all these areas the Internet data was mostly the victim of the loss of the cables as it is the biggest user of the capacity carried by the undersea cables, as well as voice calls, corporate data and video traffic.

The basic facts of the 4 "cut cables" (physical breakages) and 1 power outage on a 5th cable, could be found on statements released by the FLAG Telecom company itself on its own web site concerning its own 2 cables that were affected. Bloggers for the most part relied upon MSM Media or rumors and forum chat without bothering to research the actual location and number of cables, which is public knowledge and has been well documented for years.

So was it 4 or 5 cuts or even more?

We can speak of 5 cables being disconnected in total between January 23 and February 4:
  • Cable # 1: Jan 23: FLAG FALCON Cable near Bandar Abbas, Iran. This was little reported and so if often not included in total counts of the recent cuts.
  • Cable # 2: Jan. 30: FLAG EUROPE ASIA: Cable cut between Alexandria (Egypt) and Palermo (Italy), only one cut. The cable cut was reported at 0800 GMT on January 30th 2008 around 8.3 Km away from Alexandria cable landing station between Egypt Italy segment.
  • Cable # 3: Jan. 30: SEA-ME-WE-4 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4) first reported as cut also off the coast of Egypt as with the above FLAG cable, but a later confusing Feb 5th report says it was cut off Penang, Malaysia, and the New York Times said it was cut near Marseilles, France. It may or not have been cut in multiple locations or at all three points at different times, for possible insertion of communication interception equipment. Cuts 2 & 3 resulted in only 25% of communication capacity remaining between Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
  • Cable # 4: Feb. 1: FLAG FALCON Cable cut between Dubai (UAE) and Al SEEB (Oman). The cable cut was reported at 0559 GMT on February 1st 2008 around 56 km from Dubai.
  • Cable # 5: Feb 3: Power loss or break on cable DOHA-HALOUL connecting Qatar to the UAE, causing further disruptions to already damaged Middle Eastern communication networks. It became the fourth cable to be damaged in 5 days. The break location was between the Qarari island of Haloul and the UAE island of Das. The problem is said to be related to the power system.
The South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE-4) Submarine Cable is an approximately 18,800 km long cable connecting Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Italy, Tunisia, Algeria and France. Internet providers in neighboring countries are often fed off from any of those points.

Confusion on the number of cuts is due to: there being uncertainty over the  SEA-ME-WE-4" consortium cable cut location(s), which took place around the same time as the FLAG EUROPE ASIA cable cut on January 30, as mentioned in the list above; the little reported earlier cut which occurred to a FALCON cable on January 23, is often not counted in the total as it was less significant and occurred a week earlier; and the companies themselves are not giving out much information.

"The two cable cuts off the coast of Egypt leave the older SEA-ME-WE-3 system as the only cable in service connecting Europe to the Middle East via Egypt. The cuts have reduced the amount of available capacity on this direct route to Europe by 75 percent (620 Gbps). Until service is restored, many carriers in Egypt and the Middle East must now route their European traffic around the globe, through South East Asia and across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans." - TeleGeography.com

Below this article, under Related Items you will find links to our coverage on this matter, some of those articles themselves contain numerous links to other resources with valuable information for researchers. We also published two commentaries by Mathaba writers, in one Dr Bleher takes note of some of the lessons which can be learned from the experience, while in another Tony Ryan gives vent to the opinion held by some that it signifies an impending attack on Iran, given the ongoing sabre rattling by Israel, the U.S. and France.

Who Wins, Who Loses?

Here, time will tell in terms of political and business interests, and what lessons if any can be drawn. This article will not speculate on the benefits to the U.S. or Israel from either cutting or monitoring the cable communications as those are quite widely covered on internet forums and blogs, or indeed from cutting much of the global communications off from the most wealthy Arab States, and we have also touched on those possibilities in some of our own coverage listed below under Related Items.

Instead we will refer to the excellent coverage and analysis made by Renesys the "Internet Intelligence Authority" on its company blog on the flurry of activity by affected Internet Service Providers to find new suppliers of communications, and which of these supply companies gained and lost in each existing market.

Renesys have 250 'peering sessions' around the world and are thus in a good position to analyze the Mediterranean cable breaks and their effects on countries with interesting graphs and statistics on their company blog site. After looking at the countries most impacted by the cable cut in their first blog on the topic, they then turn their attention to the Internet service providers in the region and how they fared. We often hear statements like "the Internet is good at routing around damage", well that can be true, but only when there are available alternatives.

In a further interesting analysis, Rensys examine five selected countries and the providers into them both before and after the event. The countries they consider are Egypt, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan and India. The analysis makes for interesting reading about the opportunities for those proactive companies and the failure of some of the giants to respond quickly or adequately, showing once again how large globalist corporations could not care less and how much the world is dependent upon them for its communications.
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