Mediterranean Cable Break – Part III

September 25, 2014 Earl Zmijewski

Our first two blog entries on this topic focused on the events of 30 January 2008, when two submarine cables systems were damaged. These systems provided much of the capacity into the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent from the west. Although some countries were hurt more than others, the loss of connectivity was extensive and very widespread. Some countries and a few providers were almost completely knocked off the Internet. As Day 1 came to a close, it was clear that the damaged cables were not going to be repaired anytime soon and the impacted parties would have to look for alternatives to waiting it out.

Day 2 and 3 saw a frenzy of activity as local providers in the region tried to broker agreements with anyone who still had capacity. They were under intense pressure to restore service to local governments and businesses. In turn, global and regional providers with surviving capacity into the region were busy hunting for new customers. We definitely had a seller’s market. At Renesys, we watched all of the activity with great interest and decided to wait until the end of Day 3 to report on the winners and losers, after the initial deals were made and things had settled down to some degree.

In this part, we’ll examine five selected countries and the providers into them both before and after the event. The countries we’ll consider are Egypt, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan and India. We picked these because of their total number of unreachable networks and/or their prominence in the region. For each country, we consider only those networks which were unavailable after the cable cuts. A small number of those were also unavailable before the cuts, presumably for other reasons. After the cuts, all five countries lost global connectivity to a large number of their local networks. We looked at who provided service to these now lost networks before the cuts and then looked to see where they ended up at the end of Day 3 (2 February, 00:00 UTC). Were they still dead? Or were they restored by some other provider? Did any new providers suddenly appear in one of these countries? Did any fail to act? We’ll answer these questions in what follows, limiting our charts to the larger players in each country. Keep in mind that throughout this discussion, we will be examining only those networks that were unavailable after the cable cuts. For example, in India, there were numerous networks that were not impacted by this event, namely, those getting capacity from the east, rather than the west. We are assuming that any network still reachable after the cuts had no reason to switch providers at this time and so we do not consider them further.

We start off by looking at Egypt, one of the harder-hit countries. At the end of Day 3, the big winner was Telecom Italia, which clearly picked up a lot of new business, restoring service to almost 300 more networks than they had originally lost. France Telecom was the big loser, with no down networks restored. Flag, who maintains one of the broken cables, managed to restore service to a few hundred networks, presumably by sending that traffic east, rather than west. Although not shown here, VSNL seized the opportunity and entered the Egyptian market for the first time, acquiring a local customer.

The situation in Kuwait was even more interesting with Global Voicecom, Telecom Italia, Flag and Verizon unable to restore a single down network. VSNL did what the others could not and restored service for all of their networks, as well as gained some new business. They clearly exploited the fact that they have capacity to both the east and west from this region. PCCW was the big winner, managing to pick up almost 70 new networks. And when all else fails, there is always satellite. Horizon Satellite entered the market, providing service to four of the fallen.

Saudia Arabia saw AT&T, Flag and Sprint largely unable to act to restore service. The big winners here were Deutsche Telekom, gaining 13 networks, and VSNL, gaining 11.

We now turn our attention to the Indian subcontinent and the two big players, Pakistan and India. First up is Pakistan. The big loser here was Verizon, with over 700 networks that they failed to restore. BT was the big winner, picking up almost 500 networks. In a country with under 1400 routed networks, this was a huge gain. PCCW also did very well, gaining over 200 new networks, while Stixlite started servicing an additional 166 networks.

And finally, we look at the huge market of India. Sprint, Cable & Wireless, Deutsche Telekom, BT and Verizon all took it hard here, largely failing to restore connectivity to their networks. AT&T and Flag also lost a lot of networks. But the big winner was SingTel, gaining over 200 networks, followed by Level 3, picking up over 100. One wonders why AT&T, with lots of fiber assets in the continent, had a net loss among these networks whereas Level 3, with no fiber in the region, saw a net increase.

Having reviewed these five countries in detail, we wondered how many networks were still unavailable? That is, how much money was still on the table for those nimble providers with additional capacity? For any country, there will always be a small number of unavailable networks at any given time. These could be down for entirely local reasons: scheduled maintenance, power outages, etc. So we graphed the number of networks unreachable both before the cable cuts and at the end of Day 3. As you can see, there is still much to do. But keep in mind that even when reachability is eventually restored to all down networks, overall capacity to the region will be severely curtailed until those cables are repaired. And latencies could be very high if, for example, Europeans now need to reach the Middle East by way of the US and Asia. Of course, some connectivity is always better than none at all.

So what will happen next, when service is fully restored? Flag is claiming this work will be complete by mid-February, but there was yet another cable cut yesterday. Who will restore service to those networks still off the air? Who were the large customers that shifted service to other providers? What were the lessons learned by this event and what can be done to guard against future cable cuts? These are questions we will leave to subsequent blogs. Stay tuned.

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About the Author

Earl leads a peerless team of data scientists who are committed to analyzing Dyn’s vast Internet Performance data resources and applying their expertise to continually improve upon Dyn’s products and services.

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