Seacom outage shows link route
Johannesburg - Submarine bandwidth cable Seacom was still down on Wednesday, continuing to wreak havoc for internet service providers in South Africa.
The $600m cable system connects the east coast of Africa to Europe and has been operational for almost a year. However, analysts say the outage has revealed how Seacom really gets to Europe.
Said Steven Ambrose, MD of research and consulting firm World Wide Worx Strategy: "We were told about a cable connecting directly to London, but what has now transpired is that Seacom has not completed the leg of the cable that goes through the Red Sea and is leasing connectivity to compensate for that.
"Seacom currently routes through India. So they've spun it very well. They got the system working, but they did it as quickly and inexpensively as possible," he said.
But Ambrose said that Seacom does work, irrespective of how it routes, and it is not surprising that South Africa has become so reliant on it.
"Seacom very quickly ushered in a new era in the internet in SA. It did that by bringing pervasive, relatively low-cost access to more people," he said.
"Those that had internet access prior to Seacom used their connections as a scarce resource and then, with the new cable online, we had the capacity to consume more because the cost versus usage equation was changed," said Ambrose.
"Now we take it for granted."
CEO of Dimension Data subsidiary Internet Solutions Derek Wilcocks said that internet service providers in South Africa have become increasingly reliant on Seacom to provide their customers with international bandwidth.
Before Seacom was installed, service providers relied primarily on the SAT3 cable, of which Telkom is an anchor tenant that sells bandwidth on the system.
"Seacom is currently the most cost-effective provider of international bandwidth out of South Africa, especially if you're buying in large volumes," said Wilcocks.
"All other international capacity has to be bought through the likes of Telkom or Neotel. For that reason anyone who is a significant player especially in the DSL arena, and outside of Telkom, is putting a majority of their international bandwidth over Seacom," he said.
Wilcocks added that in August the Eassy cable will become available, providing an additional option for international bandwidth, and in 2011 the West African Cable System (WACS) will also be added.
"But right now, particularly for ISPs, it is a big issue if Seacom goes down," said Wilcocks.
"At Internet Solutions we have both consumer and business DSL product sets. Our business connections run on SAT3 primarily and failover onto Seacom," he said.
"The advantage of SAT3, which has also gone down in recent months, is that the underlying cable system has built-in failover onto the SAFE cable system. When it switches over, it is also largely transparent to users," said Wilcocks.
Seacom does not have built-in failover, however, so when it goes down there is no automatic alternative - providers must buy backup connectivity on other systems.
"It is possible to buy unprotected bandwidth on SAT3, but the vast majority of service providers have protected connections," said Wilcocks.
According to Wilcocks, Internet Solutions has not been hit hard by the Seacom outage as its customers continue to connect internationally via SAT3. Other service providers - like Afrihost and MWEB - have reported massive problems as they have optimised their networks for Seacom.
MWEB subscribers have told Fin24.com that they are having trouble sending and receiving email and using instant messaging applications. Web browsing is also slower than usual.
Seacom is expected to be down for up to another week.