West African cable issues: rerouting restricts disruption 

West African cable issues: rerouting restricts disruption 

The subsea cable damage we reported recently that apparently happened along the coasts of Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal on 14 March has continued to make headlines in recent days.

Ghana's National Communications Authority has said it has already held a meeting with the four affected subsea cable landing service providers – Africa Coast to Europe (ACE), MainOne, owned by data centre operator Equinix, South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3) and the West Africa Cable System (WACS) – and mobile network operators.

The Ghanaian communications regulator has said the subsea cable damage on West Africa could take five weeks to repair.

The immediate effect was noticeable late last week when the break in the cables led to widespread disruption of internet and telecommunications-linked businesses, including banks, mobile phone operations, money transfer agencies and stock exchange markets.

Liberia, Benin, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon, Gabon, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria and Lesotho are among the countries said to have been affected. In addition, on Thursday Microsoft confirmed that its Azure services in South Africa North and South Africa West were experiencing increased network latency and packet drops.

We also quoted an Orange spokesperson on Monday, who said: “Major impacts on international connectivity (voice and data) have been observed in several countries, particularly for Orange subsidiaries in the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea.”

However, there seems to have been a speedy restoration of services. In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, according to APA News, the internet was largely restored by Thursday evening.

One Nigerian press report says that, after concerted efforts by telecom operators, services were brought back online to near-normal levels. This mainly involved operators drawing upon the capacity of submarine cables that were unaffected by the cuts.

Indeed, according to the Connecting Africa website, Google's Equiano cable has reportedly not been affected by the outages, which means the system has been used by some companies to reroute traffic that would usually be carried on the impacted cables.

Rerouting is a common theme of many news stories and press releases. Angola Cables claims it is ensuring that the impact on Angola and other African countries is being minimised by redirecting international data and traffic to the SACS cable, which connects Angola directly to Brazil and from there to the United States and Europe.

Angola Cables says it has network backup and restoration solutions available through cables that have not been affected by the faults.

MainOne, meanwhile, says it worked with regional partners late last week and over the weekend to reroute traffic and that by Monday it had stability on its network across the region. 

Similarly, while investigation and repair efforts are underway, MTN says its Bayobab division’s strategy has been focused on rerouting traffic, leveraging MTN’s extensive network, and collaborating with industry partners.

It is also working with the cable consortiums and partners to enhance interconnection along both the west and east coasts, with further interconnections between WACS and Equiano, and the introduction of the end-to-end connection between WACS on the west coast and EASSy on the east coast.

Meanwhile Bayobab, ACE, WACS, MainOne and others say they are starting to make a move on submarine cable repairs.

The message then appears to be that, while actual repairs might take time, there has been enough alternative capacity via other routes to manage demand for now.

As for what caused the issues and what lessons could be learned, those questions may not be answered for a while. However, MainOne has suggested  that a preliminary analysis points to some form of seismic activity causing a break to its cable, rather than any kind of human activity.


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