Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Internet link to Middle East, India cut

MEDITERRANEAN MESS It appears cables north of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria have been cut, but bad weather is hampering efforts to get a repair crew to the site


Fallout spread yesterday from a cut in two undersea Internet cables off Egypt's coast, with India waking up to half of its bandwidth disrupted and widespread outages still hampering a wide swathe of the Middle East.

Officials said it could take a week or more to fix the cables, in part because of bad weather. Officials in several countries were scrambling to reroute traffic to satellites and to other cables through Asia.

In all, users in India, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain were affected. Israel was unaffected by the outages because its Internet traffic is connected to Europe through a different undersea cable, and Lebanon and Iraq were also operating normally.

The biggest impact to the rest of the rest of the world could come from the outages across India -- where many US firms outsource back-office operations including customer service call centers.

Such large-scale disruptions are rare but not unknown. East Asia suffered nearly two months of outages and slow service after an earthquake damaged undersea cables near Taiwan in December 2006. That repair operation also was hampered by bad weather.

So far, most governments in the region appeared to be operating normally, apparently because they had switched to backup satellite systems. However, the outages had caused slowdown in traffic on Dubai's stock exchange on Wednesday.

In India, major outsourcing firms, such as Infosys and Wipro, and US companies with significant back-office and research and development operations in India, such as IBM and Intel, said they were still trying to asses how their operations had been impacted, if at all.

But the president of the Internet Service Providers' Association of India, Rajesh Chharia, said firms that serve the east coast of the US and Britain had been badly hit.

"The companies that serve the [US] east coast and the UK are worst affected. The delay is very bad in some cases," Chharia said. "They have to arrange backup plans or they have to accept the poor quality for the time being until the fiber is restored."

Chharia said some firms were rerouting their service through the Pacific route, bypassing the disrupted cables. He said roughly 50 percent of the country's bandwidth had been affected.

Leading outsourcing firms in India such as Infosys and Wipro, and US companies with significant back-office and research and development operations in the country such as IBM and Intel said they were still trying to asses how their operations have been impacted, if at all.

It appeared the cables had been cut north of the port city of Alexandria, and rumors in Egypt said a ship's anchor had cut them.

However, a senior Egyptian telecommunications official said yesterday that workers won't know for sure what caused the cuts in the cables until they are able to get repair ships and divers to the area, off the northern coast of Egypt.

The official in Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Rough weather and seas prevented repair ships from getting to the site on Wednesday, the official said -- and it was unclear how soon they could get there. Once the workers arrive at the site, it could take as much as a week to repair the cable, the official said.

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