New Delhi: Communication services, especially data transmission, may be disrupted in the next two weeks because of outages and maintenance work on three undersea cables connecting India to the rest of the world.
India is linked to the global communication network through submarine cables that carry 90% of voice and data transmissions. The remaining 10% is transmitted through satellites.
These submarine cables, which are several thousand kilometres long, are typically maintained and operated by a group of telecommunications companies, which in India include Bharti Airtel Ltd, Reliance Communications Ltd, Tata Communications Ltd and state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL). Services on these fibre optic cables are sometimes disrupted if a cable is cut due to natural disasters such as earthquakes, or trawler fishing, shark bites, sabotage or theft.
The three submarine cables that have been affected go by the acronyms SMW4, IMEWE and EIG. India is connected internationally through eight major cable systems.
“There has been multiple fibre cuts on SMW4, IMEWE and EIG cable systems, affecting the overall traffic between India and Europe. Bharti Airtel is working with the cable consortium for restoration of services,” a spokesperson for Bharti Airtel said by email. “The voice traffic has been completely normalized. All necessary steps are being taken to ensure data services are available to our customers by routing traffic on alternative routes.”
The Egyptian navy has arrested three scuba divers accused of cutting an undersea Internet cable off the coast of the northern city of Alexandria, news agency AFP reported on Thursday. The men said they were salvaging shipwrecks to sell when they spotted the cable and tried to take it.
The affected cable, known as the South East Asia–Middle East–West Europe 4 (SMW4), is an 18,800km communications line connecting Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Italy, Tunisia, Algeria and France.
Similarly, the India-Middle East-Western Europe (IMEWE) is a 13,000km cable system between India and France. It has cable landing stations at Mumbai, Karachi, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Italy and France.
The third affected cable is the Europe India Gateway (EIG) system that is considered the first direct connection between India and the UK. It also connects Portugal, Gibraltar, Monaco, France, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Oman and the UAE.
“It is difficult to determine the exact impact as there are back-ups in place,” said Sivarama Krishnan, an executive director at consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. “There is a shortage in supply as compared to demand, but the Internet is not down.”
Due to the huge expense involved in installing and operating the undersea cables, they are usually done by a consortium of communication service providers. All the affected cable systems have Bharti Airtel as part of the consortium while Tata Communications is the network administrator of SMW4 and IMEWE.
“Tata Communications can confirm that the SMW4 cable system suffered a cable cut,” a London-based spokesperson of Tata Communications said by email. “The majority of the company’s IP/VPN (Internet Protocol Virtual Private Network) customers were re-routed automatically via its South Asian and Pacific routes and customers who have subscribed protected services have been restored onto a rapidly configured fourth India to Europe route, swiftly engineered with service partners to minimise service disruption. Full restoration of the cable is under way and will be completed ASAP.”
Services to some customers were interrupted on Wednesday, the spokesperson said.
Services offered by Reliance Communications and BSNL have not been affected.
Besides Egypt, Pakistan is one of the worst affected by the SMW4 outage.
“This is due to the fact that it has only one port (Karachi) connected with the cables, while India is connected through a number of ports, including Chennai and Mumbai, as well as satellites (six apart from the INSAT series),” Krishnan of PricewaterhouseCoopers said.