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4th Undersea Cable Break: Between Qatar and UAE

Posted: 2008-02-04
From: Mathaba
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Qatar Telecom (Qtel) said on Sunday the cable was damaged between the Qatari island of Haloul and the UAE island of Das on Friday, ensuring continuing loss of Internet in the region

In the 4th undersea telecommunications cable to lose connectivity within 3 days across the Middle East, Internet services in Qatar have been seriously disrupted, ensuring ongoing loss of communications across the Middle East from Egypt to India, with the exceptions of US-occupied Iraq, Isratine, Lebanon and Iran.

Qatar Telecom (Qtel) said on Sunday the cable was damaged between the Qatari island of Haloul and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) island of Das on Friday.

The cause of damage is not yet clear, but ArabianBusiness.com has been told unofficially the problem is related to the power system and not the result of a ship's anchor cutting the cable, the implausible theory touted by European and American media networks.

Physical breaks to undersea communications cables take at the very least several days and on occasion weeks to repair, due to the technical difficulties involved and requirement of specialized cable ships to reach the scene. Weather, logistics and locations affect the time required to effect a repair.

However damage can be mitigated as in the case of Qatar by finding alternative routes for transmission, where available, and Qatar has so far managed to keep internet capacity at around 60% after taking such measures.

Telecommunications and internet services have been affected in other Gulf countries, UAE's Etisalat is expected to release a statement on Monday.

Much of the Middle East and West Asia, including the Gulf Arab region, Egypt, Sri Lanka and West India were plunged into a virtual internet blackout since Wednesday when two undersea cables were cut near Alexandria, on Egypt's north coast, supplying communications to Europe and North America.

The initial breaches were in segments of two intercontinental cables known as Sea-ME-We-4 and Flag Europe-Asia, run by British company FLAG telecom.

The situation was made worse on Friday when FLAG and India's Reliance Communications, revealed that a third cable belonging to FLAG - Falcon had been damaged off the UAE coast, located 56 kilometres from Dubai on a segment between the UAE and Oman.

UAE's Etisalat telecommunications and Internet Service Provider company said it does not use the Falcon cable and is therefore unaffected. The UAE's second telco, Du, uses this cable and has warned the damage could hamper its efforts to restore normal service to customers. Etisalat said it is cooperating with Du to help minimise disruption.

FLAG said a repair ship was expected to arrive at the location of this third damaged cable within "the next few days", but that bad weather had delayed the vessel from setting off from Abu Dhabi port in the UAE.

The ship is now expected to depart on Monday morning and the repairs should take five days.

Etisalat said it had been informed by the British FLAG Telecom company, which also operates the damaged cables in the Mediterranean Sea, that the problem should be fixed in two weeks time on one of those cables, while another cable operator has plans to carry out repairs to the second cable of the Egyptian coast on February 8.

FLAG said on Saturday a ship should reach the cable repair ground by February 5.

The United States has specialist navy training and submarines precisely trained and geared to the cutting of cables and communication. International communications as well as the Internet has several bottle-necks where the break of a single cable or communications node can render countries and even regions of the world vulnerable while being heavily dependent upon a handful of companies for most of their international telecommunications.

Mustafa Alani, head of security and terrorism department at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said the outage should be a "wake-up call" for governments and professionals to divert more resources to protect vital infrastructure. "This shows how easy it would be to attack" communications networks, he said.

The Israeli press has remained silent on the cuts, in spite of the news worthiness of it's Arab neighbours losing communications whilst its own remain intact, and Israeli leaders have stepped-up their unending war of words being directed at Iran. Zionist Prime Minister Olmert used the celebration of "Holocaust Day" to announce once again that Israel was ready to act against Iran on its own.

Contrary to earlier reports, Iran has not been cut off Internet nor communications and the Iranian press have not mentioned any communication problems within Iran. Iran has the highest number of Internet users in the Middle East with around 20 million Iranians online, although mostly using Persian language only, and comes in 5th place in the Middle East for percentage of population online.

The cost of the loss of communications to the region have yet to be estimated. --mathaba
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