Cut Undersea Cable Plunges Yemen Into Days-Long Internet Outage

A fault on the Falcon submarine cable system caused a widespread internet outage throughout the country of Yemen last week.By Lily Hay Newman, WIRED
January 13, 2020

Last week, the internet went dark for Yemen and its 28 million citizens. It’s still not fully back today. In fact, the entire Red Sea region has dealt with slow to nonexistent connectivity since the severing of a single submarine cable on Thursday.

It’s popular to think of the internet as a cloud, but it’s really under the sea. A lattice of massive cables crisscrosses the world, seeding connectivity to every continent and into each country. The cables naturally suffer breaks and cuts given those harsh conditions, but usually multiple cables serve each area to create redundancies and contingencies for when one line goes down. As Yemen’s ongoing connectivity issues underscore, though, the fallback options for some regions are more tenuous.

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Ethiopia all felt major effects from last week’s cut of the so-called Falcon cable, which even impacted countries as far away as Comoros and Tanzania. Most of them weren’t totally knocked offline, though, because they were able to fall back on other lines of connectivity. In Yemen, though, that one cable cut led to an 80 percent drop in capacity. Though the country still had that last 20 percent, trying to route a water main of web traffic through a drinking straw resulted in near-total connectivity failure.

“This region has been plagued by cable cuts in the past,” says Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for Oracle Internet Intelligence. “There have been a number of new submarine cable projects to try to add some redundancy and resilience, and I think that’s improved things a lot over the years. Having said that, places like Yemen just don’t have a lot of redundancy, because they have underdeveloped infrastructure. So you have a situation where, despite the fact that there are more cables in the region, the country can still get taken out by the loss of a single cable.”

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