Submarine Cable Damage Brings Internet Pain to Asia, Africa

A cable cut on SEA-ME-WE 5 has impacted internet performance in Pakistan, other Asian nations, and parts of Africa.By Simon Sharwood, The Register
November 30, 2022

Internet users across Asia appear to be suffering from degraded performance after a major submarine cable was severed.

Pakistan's telecoms authority flagged the cable cut.

Internet-watching outfit Netblocks also spotted something amiss in Pakistan, other Asian nations, and parts of Africa.

SEA-ME-WE-5 runs from France to Singapore with landings in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Djibouti, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Indonesia along the way.

The cable is 20,000km in length and can carry 12.2Tb per fibre pair – of which there are four from Egypt to France and three for the rest of the span.

The Register has asked SEA-ME-WE-5's operator to confirm and detail the outage, not least because the Pakistan Telecoms Authority's tweet contains an error: while the city of Zafrana is a major cable landing location on the Red Sea, the mention of “Abu Talab” appears to be a typo. Egypt houses no city of that name, but is home to Abu Talat – a Mediterranean port that is also a major comms hub.

Both Zafrana and Abu Talat earned their roles because the Red Sea offers the shortest sea route connecting Asia and Europe. Cable builders prefer not to work on land because it's hard to bury kit deeply enough to avoid the impact of careless backhoes or bulldozers.

In Egypt, however, cable builders don't have an alternative. The Suez canal is shallow and heavily trafficked, making it a poor location for submarine cables. Traversing Egypt from Abu Talat to Zafrana is therefore a necessary evil – one that appears to have brought grief to SEA-ME-WE-5 and its customers today.

Thankfully, roughly another 18 cables also pass between the two Egyptian cities, so re-routing options won't be hard to find for SEA-ME-WE-5's carrier customers.

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