Saturday, December 20, 2008

How the internet works...

You see, there is this long cable at the bottom of the sea coming from Europe that... No, really...

This has been brought to my attention because I have been without internet service for the past couple of days.

I thought I would take a moment while my internet is working to explain the problem, and why I probably will not post again until I am back in the US (after Monday). Seriously, the internet here is basically connected by a long extension cord that runs under the Mediterranean. I did not know this until a ship's anchor damaged the cable, cutting off service to the entire country for an entire day. It is still quite erratic with no sense of when it will return.

Damaged cables cause internet outages for millions

Up to 70% of communications to the Middle East have been disrupted after cables connecting region to Europe were damaged

Millions of web users across the Middle East are struggling to get online after damage to undersea cables connecting Europe, Africa and Asia took down a major route for internet traffic.

As much as 70% of internet traffic and telephone communications between the continents has been affected by the outage.

It is believed to have been caused by damage to a string of cables which run on the bed of the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and Egypt, connecting Europe with other parts of the world. The lines, which run hit the Egyptian coast at Alexandria and go on to connect to Asia, are responsible for carrying vast amounts of internet traffic and phone calls between different parts of the world.

It remains unclear what precisely what caused the damage, but the Egyptian communications ministry said that ships have already been dispatched to look at the problem - although repairs will take "several days".

Jonathan Wright, a director at telecoms company Interoute, said that the outage could have a devastating affect on business and communication around the world.

"The potential impact of an outage of this size cannot be underestimated – it is like severing a major artery," he said. "Global internet connectivity is reliant on sub-sea cables connecting countries."

The incident comes less than a year after a similar outage brought a halt to communications between Europe, Africa and Asia. Those problems were believed to have been caused by ships' anchors ripping through another section of the same cables, but were exacerbated by simultaneous damage in lines through the Middle East.

As many as 75 million people were affected in countries as far apart as India, Egypt and Dubai.

It is not yet clear whether today's outage is the same order of magnitude.

Despite the prevalence of wireless internet and satellite connections, global communications are still largely reliant on the vast webs of fibre optic cables which cover the planet. The lines, which take years of planning to install, move traffic backwards and forwards across continents.

The cables hit by the latest incident are among the most vital information pipelines linking Europe to the rest of the world – and are responsible for the majority of all connectivity in the Middle East and south Asia.

According to Alan Mauldin, research director of communications analysis company TeleGeography, the succession of problems in the region are only likely to be remedied by a series of new cables which are currently being planned.

"Many new cable systems are slated to enter service between Europe and Egypt in the next few years," he said.

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