By Brad Reed
First, the good news: it doesn't look as though the Web traffic
disruption that occurred this week after two underwater cables were
damaged in Mediterranean Sea will have much of an impact on businesses
The two cables, one operated by Flag Telecom and the other by a
consortium of 15 telecommunications operators, were apparently damaged
early on Jan. 30 by ship anchors that may have severed the cables during
a storm. Stephan Beckert, an analyst with TeleGeography Research, says
the two cables account for about 75% of the network capacity between
Europe and the Middle East.
But while the damaged cables have caused major service problems in the
Middle East and parts of Asia, both ISPs and experts say the disruptions
are unlikely to greatly affect American businesses. AT&T and Verizon
Business, the two American carriers with the largest international
presence that both have network capacity on the damaged cables, say they
are already rerouting traffic through other cables, and that their
networks throughout the Middle East and Asia are running at their normal
capacity again. Additionally, a Verizon Business spokesman says the
company is buying up additional capacity to take care of any latency
issues that customers might experience as a result of the cable damages.
There has been reported difficulty, however, with receiving data sent
from the United States to countries affected by the cable damage.
Keynote Systems, a company that monitors Internet and mobile Web site
performance, has found while conducting research in India that there has
been an average 50% increase in the time it takes to download Web sites
and a 10% decrease in the availability of Web sites overall.
"Users in our monitoring locations in India and South Africa are seeing
slowdowns and deteriorations in their service," says Abelardo Gonzalez,
a product manager at Keynote. Gonzalez believes the damaged cable
incident will spur many global companies to think about new ways of
staying connected to the Web in case of emergencies. In particular, he
says companies should look into having backup connectivity through
multi-honing their ISPs or even through having a satellite uplink for
On a more macro level, the damage to the cables has raised concerns
about future incidents in which a greater number of cables could
experience more significant levels of destruction. Paul Polishuk, the
president and chairman of the board of the IGI Group of Companies, says
one problem with many of the underwater cable systems is that many of
the cables join together at shared landing points that could leave large
swathes of telecom infrastructure vulnerable to potential terrorist
"The more important thing is security aspect," he says. "A lot of people
have been talking about the potential for terrorism, since a lot of
cables go into one landing place. Imagine what would happen if a bunch
of cables were cut at same time."
Andrew Odlyzko, the director of the University of Minnesota's Digital
Technology Center, shares Polishuk's concern about the cables'
vulnerability and thinks that any significant damage to cables at major
landing points would have serious economic consequences.
Damage to cables doesn't even have to come from terrorism, Odlyzko says,
citing the 2006 earthquakes that severely disrupted Taiwan's Internet
access. In the near future, he predicts, companies are going to start
demanding that operators diversify the locations of their cabling
systems, so that if one major system goes down, traffic can more quickly
be rerouted along an alternate path. He also thinks the estimated
two-week repair time for the cables is relatively slow and shows that
operators may need to put more money into repair infrastructure in order
to prevent similarly long outages in the future.
Of course, as Gonzalez notes, no amount of preparation will be able to
prevent all disasters, and businesses will still have to be prepared to
cope during major disruptions.
"What you have to do as a business is to make sure that you have
adequate resources available to customers 100% of time," he says.
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