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Google outage puzzles providers

Websites associated with Google become unavailable in the UAE, but the internet giant and Etisalat deny the problem originated at their end.

Websites associated with Google, including YouTube, were unavailable in the UAE on Sunday and yesterday, but both the internet giant and Etisalat denied that the problem originated on their end. Etisalat said it was not aware of any issues associated with accessing the Google search engine or logging onto services such as Gmail or Google Maps. Joanne Kubba, Google's communications manager for the Middle East and North Africa, said yesterday that she also was unaware of any network irregularities in the UAE. "I'm inclined to think it's an ISP [internet service provider] issue," she said.

But local bloggers, including Khaled Jabasini, were reporting frustrations related to Google on the social networking site Twitter. Around 1.45am yesterday, Mr Jabasini complained online that he was unable to retrieve e-mail in Dubai and wondered whether anyone else was facing difficulties with Gmail. "All yesterday night I was trying my e-mail," the 31-year-old Jordanian said in an interview. "I was checking around 2am until 4.30am and it was like going on and off, but mainly off."

The Google search engine was also inaccessible, he added. Meanwhile, in the capital, Shaneez Hameed was having similar problems on Sunday afternoon. "I was at work and trying out some searches," the 27-year-old IT employee said. "I tried Google.ae and Google.com and both were not working. When I went home from the office to Musaffah, it was still down." Other web pages appeared to be working fine, although Mr Hameed saw the same error messages when he tried to visit YouTube, a subsidiary of Google.

"Most services connected to Google were down," he said, adding that instead he used Microsoft's rival search engine, Bing, for the first time. Mr Hameed did, however, note he was able to search using the Google browser on his BlackBerry, leading him to suspect the problem may lie with Etisalat. "Normally a lot of sites that are blocked by Etisalat I can access on my BlackBerry, so they must use a different server. Maybe that's why Google worked on my BlackBerry."

But Etisalat was adamant that the technical problems did not originate from its side. "If the rest of the internet was working and there was no sort of 'this site is blocked' message, it doesn't have anything to do with [Etisalat]," a public relations representative said yesterday. Dr Fadi Aloul, an assistant professor in computer engineering at the University of Sharjah, said either side may be to blame. He suggested that Etisalat may have mistakenly blocked Google, as was the case last year when Pakistan's telecoms regulator mistakenly blocked YouTube. Or, it could have been an error with the domain name system (DNS) being misnamed, meaning the numerical IP address was directing users to the wrong location.

"If you typed in the IP address number instead of 'www.google.com' and it took you there directly, that means Google is working and it's a DNS issue," he said. Dr Aloul said that a Google outage is typically international in scope. "When Google goes down it usually goes down for the whole world, not just for the UAE," he said. "But [this instance is] a bit of a mystery." Ms Kubba said: "This doesn't sound like it's a Google issue. When something like this happens, we hear about it immediately and I haven't heard any word of this, so I don't think it's something on our end."

In June, a survey conducted by Arab Advisors Group found Google is the most popular search engine among 97 per cent of respondents in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. mkwong@thenational.ae

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