An occurrence in January, 2008, almost threw part of the world into an internet black out. Reason, an errant ship anchor had been suspected to have interfered with the underwater cables in Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Egypt.
Egypt suffered the biggest blow losing 80 percent of its internet capacity. She wasn’t the only one affected though, as snail pace internet was experienced across Asia. Saudi Arabia lost 40 percent of its network and even Bangladesh, miles away lost part of its connectivity.
This was a wake-up call that brought about so many questions. What were other ways of supplying the world with internet less likely to be interrupted to such levels? That was the cheapest and the known way of supplying internet from South Asia to Europe – fiber optic, from France to the Meridian through the Suez, into the Indian Ocean and surroundings.
There were of course other occurrences and incidents that would time and again interrupt the smooth flow of internet. These included, acts of war, like a bombing, in a war torn state that could literally bring the financial world in London and Abu Dhabi to a standstill.
The interruptions had dire economic consequences that did not only affect the big banks but many major businesses. India for example, highly depends on very reliable internet for its successful virtual outsourcing sector. Some reports put a figure of people who were actually affected in India by the interference at 60 million.
“How do you even start explaining to the banks and stock markets that due to interrupted internet, we won’t be featuring for a while…..very embarrassing” said Jim Cowie, former head of research and development, Reneys.
After the 2008 disruptions, most companies on both ends of the Mediterranean had two options; clamor for redundancy or look for alternative network links from Europe to Asia. The past 5 years have seen great strides made by a series of giant European and Asian Telecom consortia. They have build four new overland fiber-optic path linking Europe to the financial hubs in Persia and successful economies of the South of Asia.
New pathways were made by Dyn, a Hampshire company that manages traffic for giant sites on internet (and later acquired Renesys). This development has seen tremendous increase in the internet speed estimated up to 20 milliseconds faster from the Persian Gulf to London, of course faster than the submarine route. The speed is definitely very significant and of paramount importance as far as automated financial transactions is concerned. The speed comes at a cost though, which financial institutions, Internet Service Providers and other big corporate would happily pay a premium to diversify the source of their internet service and protect themselves against unnecessary interruptions which always have a very negative effect on the companies output.
To get to South Asia from Europe by land, one cannot avoid the Middle East and again, none of the networks can escape the volatile regions often marked by conflict which would cause interruptions in the future. For example, the JADI network that runs from Istanbul to Jeddah, about 1600 miles has been badly damaged, interrupting the network. This happened less than one year after JADI traffic was availed for purchase, when Syria broke out in a civil war.
Stakes are definitely very high for the new networks, with their own present and real dangers, but Syrian network technicians have been heroic as they have rolled trucks in the middle of a firefight to repair the damage, commends Cowie.
The other cable paths all face their own challenges, though not as dramatic as the JADI network. The network that bypasses Suez through Israel is in service. It has nevertheless been threatened by the violence experienced rapidly. The cable that runs through Iraq has also experienced its fair share of difficulties in “coordination and agreement,” says Cowie. This has been brought about by lack of cooperation between the Kurdish authorities and their Arab counterparts.
The Europe-Persian Express Gateway (EPEG) has not been spared either but it has been the biggest success story according to Cowie, as it has managed to escape major disruptions regardless of its running through the Caucasus, which is very volatile. It now passes through the newly shaky eastern part of Ukraine with leaders who have openly threatened to disrupt other pipelines.
The secret to a stable supply of internet is therefore in diversification. The need to diversify sources of internet cannot be ignored or overlooked. This is the only way corporate and institutional interests will make sure they are not victims to internet interruptions in the future. The interruption that took place in 2008 should never be experienced again. No act of man or nature should be able to cause so much havoc in the internet world and hamper the economy that much.