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Do you remember dialling up to the Internet?

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That is what it was like on 16 January when a simultaneous dual submarine cable break occurred in the early hours of that disastrous Thursday. It resulted in South African internet users, whose ISPs are connected to international connectivity on both or either of these cable systems, experiencing reduced speed on international browsing. It was like being back in the dial-up days!

Cableship fitted out with submarine fibre restoration equipment

Restoration of the two cables is taking much longer than originally indicated, mainly due to poor weather, rough sea conditions and what seems to be some disagreements between the consortiums about whose cable must be fixed first.

But so much for the claim that fibre would kill the satellite market. Satellite owners are now smiling as companies rushed to them for connectivity while some pursued rerouting their services via other cables on the east coast of South Africa, such as Seacom, SAFE and EASSy.  While this improved the browsing experience, in some cases latency is still being experienced.

The affected cables, the South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable (SAT3/WASC) and the West African Cable System (WACS), are deployed in the Atlantic Ocean and connect South Africa and many other African countries to Europe.  The WACS system lands in South Africa at Yzerfontein, Western Cape, while the SAT3/WASC system enters South Africa at Melkbosstrand, Western Cape.

It also has come to light that the WACS cable also experienced a power feed problem off the coast of Ghana, a problem that is not likely to be resolved till month end.

Both the cable consortiums tasked their respective restoration processes to a single Chief of Mission aboard the Leon Thevinin. This is a fit-for-purpose undersea cable deployment and maintenance vessel that is staffed with highly skilled technical personnel suitable for the most efficient restoration of both cable systems.

Poor weather and rough seas have been blamed for the long delays in the restoration process but is a more than month-long disruption acceptable?  Many ISP’s were able to reroute traffic to other cables and satellite channels but at a cost.

No one has come forward with an explanation as to how and why the problems occurred. Perhaps when the ship returns to Cape Town, we will learn more. Read more about the sub-marine cable saga in the February edition of EngineerIT, available later this week.

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