If you tried to access the internet yesterday afternoon you may have noticed that your connection wasn’t responding. You may then have railed against the internet gods in a rant of epic fury.
Just after 2pm yesterday afternoon multiple outages on an Egyptian terrestrial network were discovered by undersea internet cable company SEACOM.
This resulted in intermittent access to international websites for some local internet service providers, and a disruption of South Africa’s online connectivity.
A short while later at around 4:15pm, South African hosting provider, Hetzner, posted a network notice informing customers that they “may experience slow or intermittent international connectivity at present”, citingSEACOM and WACS cable faults.
WACS is the “West African Cable System” that runs from Cape Town to Europe.
So not just one, but two undersea internet cables connecting Africa to the rest of the world experienced outages yesterday.
As you can see from the image above, SEACOM operates a number of cables under the oceans around Africa. The SEACOM cable that failed is the one which runs along the eastern coast of Africa and up towards Europe. The outage happened somewhere close to Egypt, on the leg that connects the continent to Europe.
Internet service providers are usually able to cope with single cable outages by redirecting their network traffic over others, but this unusual scenario of two major cables experiencing down-time at the same time left ISPs who rely extensively on those two cables for their connection to the outside world high and dry.
MWEB posted the following notice to its subscribers:
Fortunately the story has a happy ending: South Africa was back online by 7pm last night, so whatever actually caused the outage didn’t require a major fix.
Undersea cables are at risk of being accidentally cut or damaged by ship anchors dragging along the ocean bottom, and should something like that happen, repairing the break is a major and time-consuming undertaking.
This is also why having multiple cables connecting to the country is so important. South Africa currently has 14 undersea cables with landing points at various parts of the country, all with varying capacities: