x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fewer jams ahead for Gulf internet traffic

Five new cables to speed up Web access; bandwidth capacity in the Middle East will be improved greatly by the end of the year

Internet providers scrambled to divert connections when the Sea-MW-We 4 underwater cable was severed last Thursday.
Internet providers scrambled to divert connections when the Sea-MW-We 4 underwater cable was severed last Thursday.

Internet users in the Middle East will have faster connections and fewer disruptions when five new cables come online by the end of the year. The region's overworked networks rely on just one major connection to the Web - an underwater cable known as "Sea-ME-We 4" that runs from Europe to the UAE and was last week accidentally severed in the Mediterranean Sea.

As internet providers scrambled to divert connections to regional centres when the cable was damaged last Thursday, online traffic in the UAE slowed to a crawl. Repair ships were expected to finish fixing the cable by tomorrow, Etisalat said. But while the Middle East receives most of its internet bandwidth from Sea-ME-We 4 and two other smaller connections, link-ups with greater reliability are on the way.

Stephan Beckert, the director of research for the US company TeleGeography Research, said five new cables were due to come online between Europe and Egypt this year. Adding cables to the Egyptian centre will create more bandwidth for the regional network to access. The new connections, operated by Telecom Egypt, Orascom Telecom and Reliance Communications, will more than double the internet bandwidth available in the region and reduce the dependency the Middle East has on the Sea-ME-We-4 cable.

"A cut in the Sea-ME-We-4 cable is particularly problematic because this cable currently accounts for just under 90 per cent of 'lit' [available] capacity between Europe and the Middle East," Mr Beckert said. "When [that cable] suffers an outage, operators cannot easily restore service by rerouting traffic over the other two cables, since they don't have anywhere near enough capacity. Instead, they can only restore service by rerouting traffic most of the way around the world."

Mr Beckert said by the end of the year, the Sea-ME-We-4 cable will account for only 40 per cent of the new bandwidth capacity available in the Middle East, with the five new cables providing almost all of the rest. Farid Faraidooni, the chief commercial officer for du, the UAE's second-largest telecommunications company, said the operators' internet service was not affected by the recent cable severance. The company operates the FALCON internet cable centre in Dubai. If it requires more bandwidth, it buys extra capacity from a centre based in Oman or from Etisalat's cable landing station, which distributes capacity locally.

"We have some capacity with Sea-ME-We-4 but very little, so we had extra capacity on other cables so we could shift our demand easily," Mr Faraidooni said. "There has been almost no impact on du." Although internet traffic speed has been improving since work on fixing the damaged cable began, some services such as YouTube have yet to resume. Representatives from Google, which owns the popular video streaming website, could not be reached for comment.

Etisalat is a partner in a US$400 million (Dh1.46 billion) underwater cable network consortium headed by Tata Communications that will link India to the Middle East and Africa. Its rival du has contributed $50m to the laying of a 15,000km cable linking the UK to India, which is worth a reported $700m. @Email:dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae