Internet speed across Pakistan plummeted by nearly 60% on Wednesday when an underwater fiber optic cable was damaged in the Arabian Sea near Karachi.
South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe (SEA-ME-WE) 4, one of the four submarine cables that connects the country globally via the internet, was damaged around noon on Wednesday – only a couple of weeks following the breakdown of India-Middle East-Western Europe (I-ME-WE) fiber optic cable that has yet to be repaired.
As a result, internet services in the country will likely remain disrupted for an indefinite period. Internet service providers were unable to provide a timeframe on when the problem will be resolved.
Shortly after the disruption, internet users across Pakistan faced a host of problems ranging from intermittent to slow internet connectivity. Many complained that their browsing speed had decreased significantly.
“This is a result of a fault in the undersea cable line to Pakistan through Alexandria, Egypt. The fiber optic undersea cable SEA-ME-WE-4 was affected beyond Egypt for currently unknown reasons,” Wateen Telecom said in a statement.
The fault disrupted about 50% of Pakistan’s internet traffic, according to Wahaj-us-Siraj, Convener of Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK). The network breakdown has affected over a dozen countries, he said.
Explaining further, the ISPAK chief said Transworld Associates (TWA) and Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL) act as the internet gateway to Pakistan and provide bandwidth to local internet service providers. TWA and PTCL are connected with four undersea fiber optic cables that include I-ME-WE, SEA-ME-WE-3, SEA-ME-WE-4 and TWA-1.
The country’s internet traffic is currently running on SEA-ME-WE-3and TWA-1 and catering to the entire telecommunications traffic, which has caused massive traffic congestion, Siraj said.
The breakdown of SEA-ME-WE-4, however, has caused more problems than I-ME-WE.
“It’s like you have four roads catering to the traffic; what will happen if two of these roads are closed,” Wahaj said.
“The estimated time to repair has not been announced as of yet, as PTCL and TWA are in communication with SEA-ME-WE-4 consortium members to determine the time it will take to repair the cable,” Wateen Telecom added.
SEA-ME-WE 4 provides a telecommunications link between Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Italy, Tunisia, Algeria and France.
The cable is approximately 18,800 kilometres long, and provides the primary internet backbone between South East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Europe.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2013.