Seacom outage shows link route

2010-07-07 11:09

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 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.


  • ChrisB - 2010-07-07 11:43

    After frantically looking for more International Bandwidth yesterday, I purchased a pre-paid Data plan with Web Africa who are also running on the SAT3 cable,and the speeds are even better than my Mweb's 4Mbit line. If you are urgently requiring bandwidth, do yourself a favour and give them a call, took all of 15 minutes to get it all sorted out, and doesn't require you to sign up into any sort of long-term agreements / contracts, works just like a Pre-Paid phone card

  • Abigwar - 2010-07-07 11:43

    We should all start dump selling our shares in companies that routinely fail, that will bring about a sense of responsibility. Rather use that money to invest in companies thast offer great service and exceptional customer care...anyone know when teasers plans to list?

  • Tyk - 2010-07-07 11:43

    Hahahahaha, I am so glad Im a Webafrica customer. My business is running perfectly, speed and reliability is what matters most.

  • Bernard Ridge - 2010-07-07 11:59

    It would have been really nice if mweb had let their clients know about the problem, I recently loaded new security measures on my computer and was forced to remove the pakage as I was under the impression that this was what was causing my problems with email and web browsing.A simple email from mewb would have saved me a lot of wasted time and effort.

  • Roger - 2010-07-07 12:04

    Still better than telkom rip off.

  • Bruce - 2010-07-07 12:09

    Yet another consultant telling us something we already knew. If you weren't aware of it prior to the cable fault on the SeMeWe4 cable that Seacom leases access on, you should definitely have been aware of it afterwards given the press coverage.

  • roddyp - 2010-07-07 12:32

    Don't slate the Seacom cable too quickly. Look at what it has done for bandwidth prices. Yes the SAT cable is more stable, but controlled by telkom,they are more than happy to rip off the consumer. I would take a slight inconvenience coupled with cheap bandwith over telkoms rip-off but stable bandwidth anyday. P.s. In a few months the other cables are landing and we will have enough redundancy to ensure no-one has to use the SAT cable anymore...

  • Philip - 2010-07-07 13:03

    I hope they get this sorted out.I am with MWeb and for the last four weeks I have been battling to get a connection and when I do I get continuously dumped.Even in Linux. This is very frustrating and annoying.

  • Telstar - 2010-07-07 13:32

    Abigwar- you have shares in a company to 'dump"? Tell me who and I'll buy it. What difference will it make to the shareholder, i.e. you?

  • Fair Deal - 2010-07-07 16:00

    Have been a client of M Web for a number of years and have found their service and support to be exelent.They are largely responsible for the drop in ADSL prices in SA.I for one am prepared to weather the storm without winging and complaining.

  • Tom - 2010-07-07 16:40

    Internet Solutions will email you for a week, telling you they sourcing alternative routes, but nothing happens. Same thing happened the last time the SEACOM cable went down. Seems there is no backup strategy for the consumer with both Mweb and Internet Solutions off the SEACOM cable, you will have to just sit and wait for a week until it's repaired. What would make a great story is how Telkom got the public to pay for the SAT-3 cable many years ago and then charges the public the earth for it for decades. We don't forget these things Telkom!

  • Etienne - 2010-07-07 19:47

    So do I have it right: its not like the cable itself so-many- fathoms below the Indian ocean have been taken out by a giant manta ray, but more so India which might have spiced things up a bit too much on their connection?! I was about to offer my scuba level one qualification to go and help fix that cable!

  • Penny - 2010-07-08 13:52

    When I pay for a service, I expect to get it. If I don't pay my MWeb account (or any other account for that matter), I will be disconnected. I am paying now for something I am not getting! MWeb should have had back up plan!! No backup plan is very unproffesional.

  • Jannie - 2010-07-08 18:16

    Penny: for the most part, you got and are getting what you pay for. Network connectivity at a particular level of service. That MWeb and others do not advertise widely that their consumer-grade services are not provided at the same level of performance as various business services is understandable in my view; the pricing of a service is (generally) an indication of the underlying bundle of services it is comprised of. As with most things in life, if you require a higher level of service, vote with your wallet but be prepared to pay a premium for it.

  • Gandalf - 2010-07-08 18:29

    Thank goodness I have a back up plan. I have an account with 2 separate providers. The only setback is, it costs me money.

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