Internet down. Again.

“We are working as fast as we can.”

Said the Egyptian official off the coast of whose country the severed cable lies. A single cable which has disrupted Internet services across the majority of Middle East and India, bringing some businesses down to their knees. It’s not going to be fixed any time soon, either. It might take up to two weeks to restore data and voice services, predicted some reports.

Severed undersea optical cable

The question is how was this allowed to happen? Not that the cable was severed, this is just an accident which is recurring with much familiarity. The real question is, how is much of the fastest growing economies in the world dependent on a single undersea cable? Didn’t anyone think of a redundancy plan which covers just such an eventuality? One which would withstand such a technical disruption with complete transparency to the customers?

Obviously not. They’re too busy thinking of those grandiose and totally useless schemes of new cities built on man-made dredged islands whose owners are those select few institutional investors who lather at the thought of those billions in profit extracted from the vastly cash rich Sovereign Wealth Funds. A laughable spectacle really, because it’s nothing more than taking money from one pocket and depositing it in the other. But it’s a good scheme. The numbers are pretty. Just like Enron’s.

Regardless. We have a problem, which – in the presence of those funds as well as their generator’s continuous appreciation in world’s markets – could be easily fixed. Our own parliament could contribute too by just once thinking long term and chucking those 40 million [translate] into a fund to create a redundant alternative. An alternative whose profits could easily cover the requirements of those in our community which escalating commodity prices have hurt.

But I won’t be holding my breath to see either solution being adopted.

Short term solutions to long term problems managed by fools does not progress make.


  1. Loki

    Yesterday I switched on Safari and stared blankly at the white screen for a couple of minutes (a small voice in my brain told me something was amiss). ” NOOOOOO!!”

    AFAIK submarine cables are damn expensive and only a handful (or less even) of companies in the world invest in laying them. Are they as expensive as multi million BD projects built on the sea causing the destruction of every living thing on the water for the creation of Commercial centres with questionable demand and luxury Villas very few people can afford? don’t know, probably not.

  2. ammaro

    Somehow this doesnt make sense to me. how was Zain (MTC) able to operate with no problems then? A single cable? Are you frickin kidding me?

  3. Ahmed

    Being in Jeddah i’ve been used to the dsl disconnecting on a daily basis for 5 minutes at a time, and recurring every 10 or 15 minutes !

    So i wasn’t surprised when the internet went down for 3 continuous days!

    Fortunately, for me though, I walked into Al Jawal’s office, and got me a 3G data card and a 3G router. Now, downloading at 7.2Mbps, no disconnections, and for BD45 a month. Well that’s what i hoped for. Less disconnections, but not at 7.2Mbps. Very slow connection, more like on dial-up now.

    Looking at this article today, i realised the problem. Even the internet connection at work has been down yesterday, so, at least less of the DSL cockups

  4. Abu Arron

    At least the cause moves around. Remember mid 2006 when some bright spark cut through our comms cable in Saudi?! That was fun for a while. 😳

  5. Barry

    I wonder how all of our companies here in the states are going to function with most of their tech support outsourced to India?


  6. TwoTired

    I don’t know if anyone here in Bahrain noticed but when the cable was cut, I felt something was wrong with my connection.

    The connection didn’t go down but it was extremely slow, pings of 2 seconds and above. When I did a tracert I figured out the problem was a “broken hop/routing”. It sort of struck me as funny when I knew what happened :P.

    Anybody else in Bahrain had their connection affected past two days? It seems to be back to normal today.

  7. Loki

    Its improved allot but not back to normal for me. Presumably As Batelco are able to route more traffic via alternative routes such as VSAT or other connections the speed is getting better but its still sluggish.

  8. ehsan

    There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what exactly happened amongst the general public, mainly because there is no transparency in realizing technical information. I guess something good came out of my days at Batelco because I saw what’s going on behind the scenes.

    All international connections are routed via submarine cables. This is not only in Bahrain, but the entire Middle East in general with the exception of Israel who relies more heavily on European cables. Submarine cables are extremely expensive, and a very specialized industry. The networks servicing the gulf area are the FALCON cable going out to SEA-ME-WEA. There aren’t any alternative companies to do it, there is no other way to do it.

    The issues are mainly with where the landing points for these cables are. By adding more points, we can have alternative routes going east and west. But what it boils down to is that all Tier 1 Internet hubs, and mainly content, is in the United states. So whether you go through Japan or the UK, you eventually need to get to the US. Every route to the US, you have to pay for. Now imagine you have a low latency 100GBPS path going west — you pay very dearly for that. There’s no point in having your backup link be equal and pay just as much… you go for a 10GBPS backup link. In case of emergency, it works, but it’s damn slow.

    Bahrain has several backup links… the Middle East in general has even less. We’re routing through Saudi now which has the only non-submarine cable networking going up to Europe. We’re also using our eastern cable connections, but they are slow. So there is redundancy, full backup routes, but they are slower than usual because that’s what backup means.

    I’m afraid in this case, it really is nobody’s fault. Capitalism dictates that anything we do has to be profitable. It is just not feasible to solve this problem with the way the global economy currently works. The solution would be for a Middle East endorsed Internet hub to be created somewhere like the UAE or Saudi. That’s extremely expensive, and not worth the money, because the backup links are doing their job, we don’t have the economies of scale for such a large project, and as you said we are busy digging up the sea and building more palm tree shaped islands.

    I do strongly agree with one thing though: It’s all managed by fools.

  9. ehsan

    Oh, and we’re on Slashdot 😉

    Some interesting comments:

    – This probably isn’t a case of “Middle East Loses Internet”, more a case of “Millions in Middle East Now Using One Fibre Connection Instead Of Two”.

    Like when a major motorway gets closed due to an accident, and every road within a hundred mile radius is choked for the rest of the day.

    – Would you pay 2 time the price to prevent a one-day outage once every year ? Military does. Consumers don’t. Yet.

    – I believe that Middle East had their servers running. Taking into account the number of people affected, the title of news should be

    Internet split into two independent networks due to broken cable

    … if not yet

    Europe and America cut from the internet

  10. Mike

    I hope companies in this part of the world seriously look at investing and integrating seamless redundancy solutions into their current infrastructure, even more so now as IP based technologies are taking off – such as VoIP, IPTV etc. We’ll have Life delivered over IP soon! 😛

    Most of the world’s websites and DNS servers are hosted in the EU & North America – The telcos were bragging on about how “local” browsing was unaffected – erm… I really couldn’t care how fast loads….

    As far as I know all ISPs that lease bandwidth from Bahrain Internet Exchange (including Zain) were affected. Allot of providers turned to VSAT for their connections to the west. Those companies with a larger customer based will of had slower browsing speeds.

    Have a look at the current organizations with VSAT here:

    My two cents.

  11. Pingback: Global Voices Online » MENA: Internet Outage Enrages Bloggers

  12. Sid

    Economies of scale? Where do we come up with this.

    The ONLY thing that rings true here is the “managed by fools” comment. Economies of scale are achieved by increasing the market size – not share, but actually improving the size of the customer base that you serve. Market size is increased by making services more readily available and more affordable to everyone.

    It also has to do with educating the potential market (especially in the case of technology-based industries) to make those people more aware of the uses and/or benefits of the products available.

    Bah, whatever, all this falls on deaf ears anyway. But in a nutshell, educate the market to get people interested, once people are interested, demand will rise, as demand rises you can reduce the price of your obnoxiously unrealistic pricing structure to a less obnoxious, but still rather unrealistic pricing structure – this is how economies of scales are achieved, by grabbing the industry by the scruff of the neck and using the billions you make in annual profits and putting them towards a good cause like, dare I say, the improvement of the entire society – this is true for every sector, not just tech, not just telecom. When the market flourishes, your profitability rises, so you can actually invest in a REALISTIC infrastructure which comes with a complete, and as someone mentioned SEAMLESS contingency plan when some moron drags his ship’s anchor over a multi-gazillion-dollar cable that only ONE producer in the world makes. You can give all that stuff the finger, go the beam-me-up-scotty route and put all those satellites to better use rather than just for mobile phones.

    (On a side note, I know this isn’t the right place, but I’ll happily take every chance I get to point a finger at Buttelco….Ahmed in Jeddah, your Al Jawal 3G solution – is it capped or unlimited? 😀 – Goes back to economies of scale actually – attractive product = bigger market = EOS)

    Happy-two-week-slownet-to-us-all 😀

  13. Nancy

    All my international connections are working again, although very S-L-O-W-L-Y, after last week’s cable break – except some bbc links, e.g. live radio that I was able to get before and now it says “Bad request”! Anyone got any ideas how I can overcome this?

  14. Ahmed


    the 3G connection is unlimited.. BD45 per month. No subscription required, you can for example get something similar to Easy or SimSim, put the BD45 in it, and use it endlessly, or settle for bandwidth based options.

    Al Jawal’s competitor, Mobily, charges only BD35 for an unlimited 3G connection at a theoretical speed of 7.2Mbps. Lower priced bandwidth based options are also available.

    No mandatory purchase of any kind of equipment is required. But you obviously need a 3G router or a 3G card for your laptop. You can get these from the service providers, the local market, or Ebay !!

    I say theoretical speeds because i wasn’t able to test it since i only got when the ship anchor problem happened. I’ll update you about the speed in a few weeks time once the problem is sorted out.

  15. SamT

    3G is still very much in it’s infancy here in Bahrain. Both providers Zain and Batelco offer packages with download restrictions. Zain offers 1.8Mbps and Batelco offers 3.6Mbps. Both will ask you to purchase their USB 3G Modems which are branded and locked at ridiculous prices. Batelco’s modem 79BD and Zain’s at 105BD. I bought mine off ebay for 35 Dinars and it’s unlocked so I’ve used it on Zain and Batelco’s network. It’s a PCMCIA 3G card which means I can easily share my connection over a LAN with 3rd party 3G routers that both Linksys + Dlink produce. The USB modems are difficult to share.

    Connection speeds – I tested using the Bahrain pyramid on Speedtest are:


    Advertised 1.8
    – I get 1.1 to 1.4


    Advertised 3.6 – I get 1.8 to 2.4

    Just a note for those interested in 3G as an alternative to ADSL. I would stick to ADSL for now. I’ve found that 3G connections are not as reliable as services delivered over copper POTS, and the quality of the link is always changing due to external factors, and most importantly round trip times are poor – so latency sensitive applications such as VoIP, skype etc is poor with a noticeable delay.

    ps. I tested my connections before the internet outage.

  16. Loki

    I hear that! I was having this conversation with someone yesterday. They asked me if I thought this was deliberate.

    The way I see it there was either a 0.000000000001 in a hundred chance of this happening or it was deliberate

    (0.001 in a hundred being the chance of ONE cable being cut- if one can use typical telco SLA for this type of circuit as an assumption)

  17. Loki

    Looking at the slashdot comments, people obviously talking about Iran. And that this is a precursor to military action. For me that seems very strange. The precursor to military action in the past has been to send in a handful of F-117s and take out power stations and communication centres.

    I’m not sure how getting rid of email and web browsing is militarily significant. Still it is too much of a coincidence.

  18. Mike

    I was told that the two submarine cables that were initially cut in two were a mile apart running parallel to one another. Any truth to that? Perhaps during the repair they might install a splitter so a certain 3rd party can easily analyze voice/data traffic from this part of the world without having to intercept individual providers.. hmm…

  19. Mike

    The Egyptian government has released a statement saying Internet cables damaged in the Mediterranean Sea were not caused by ships, revoking earlier claims.

    In today’s press.

  20. Mike

    Do you reckon FLAG & SeaWeedME are going to pass the buck and blame the cuts on shark attacks perhaps? An act of God = no compensation for us consumers.

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