Thursday, January 31, 2008

Network Halted - Major Problem

MAJOR Problem - Cause of Worry!

Reports say that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain Pakistan and India, are all experiencing severe problems.

Nations that have been spared the chaos include Israel -- whose traffic uses a different route -- and Lebanon and Iraq. Many Middle East governments have backup satellite systems in case of cable failure.

The lines that tie the globe together by carrying phone calls and Internet traffic are just two-thirds of an inch thick where they lie on the ocean floor.

The head of an Egyptian Internet service provider called the situation a "wake-up call" for the region, which he said is too dependent on underground lines and does not have a strong enough back-up system. Mohammed Amir, head of Quantum, an ISP in Cairo, described the situation as "a major problem," but expressed hope that the worst of it is over.

The foundation for a connected world seems quite fragile, an impression reinforced this week when a break in two cables in the Mediterranean Sea disrupted communications across the Middle East and into
India and neighboring countries.

Yet the network itself is fairly resilient. In fact, cables are broken all the time, usually by fishing lines and ship anchors, and few of us notice. It takes a confluence of factors for a cable break to cause an outage.

"Most telecom companies have capacity at multiple systems, so if one goes out, they simply reroute to a different system," said Stephan Beckert, analyst at research firm TeleGeography in Washington. "It's just that in this case, both the main route and the backup route got cut for a lot of companies."

The two cables — FLAG Europe Asia and SEA-ME-WE 4 — were cut on the ocean floor just north of Alexandria Egypt.

Sources from Emirates Airlines confirmed to CNN Arabic that the outage did not affect its flight schedules -- a statement which assured hundreds of travelers worried after rumors about the possibility of rescheduled flights due to the faults.

By an accident of geography and global politics, Egypt is a choke point in the global communications network, just as it is with global shipping. The reasons are the same: The country touches both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, which flows into the India Ocean

The slim fiber-optic cables that carry the world's communications are much like ships, in that they're the cheapest way for carrying things over long distances. Pulling cable overland is much more expensive and requires negotiation with landowners and governments.

So fiber-optic cables that go from Europe to India take the sea route via Egypt's Suez Canal, just as ships do.

Another Mediterranean cable makes land not far away, in Israel.

There is also no route that goes through Russia, Iran and Pakistan to India. The terrain is rugged, Pakistan is politically unstable, and India and Pakistan are not on good terms.

But there's no cable overland from Israel into Jordan and to the Persian Gulf, which could have provided a redundant connection for the Gulf States and India. Going overland would have been more expensive and politically difficult — Israel and Arab countries would have to cooperate.

The main route goes through Japan and the United States, crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. According to Beckert, this is normally the cheap way to go for Indian traffic, since capacity is high. However, the distance means more time required to reach Europe and get a response.

The other route from India to Europe goes over China into Russia and along the Trans-Siberian railroad.

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