Massive Africa Internet Outage Could Take Weeks To Repair

Repairing Subsea Communication Cables

It’s been three days that most African nations (including Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, South Africa, Libaria and Ghana) are suffering from internet outage due to several submarine cables that were damaged. Although, the cause of the cable damage was unknown, but shifting of the seabed, shark bite, fishing trawlers, anchors, earthquakes, and turbidity currents are among the likely possibilities.

However, according to an insider from Cloudflare, repairs of the affected subsea cables can take weeks or months, depending on locations where the cables are damaged, what needs to be repaired, and local weather conditions.

The assignment of repair ships depends on a number of factors, including ownership of the impacted cables.

Orange's Sophie Germain
The Sophie Germain, one of the repair ships tasked with fixing broken subsea cables around Africa

MTN Group has also made it clear that West Africa Cable System (Wacs) and Ace sea cables, two of the companies that were affected, have jointly initiated the repair process, and that they would send a vessel to fix the damaged cables.

Data has shown that since three days ago the internet disruptions have come to live in Africa, eight countries have been affected. However, Benin, Ivory Coast and Liberia are most affected by the internet connectivity disruption. Other countries like Nigeria and South Africa are only suffering from slow internet speed. Many companies reported services disruption in South Africa.

Many Nigerian banks (including FCMB and Zenith Bank) are also suffering from the service disruption; banking mobile applications and internet/online banking are currently not working. Hence, FCMB and Zenith Bank have give alternate banking solutions (via ATMs and POS) to customers pending the time they’ll coactions with their internet providers to reroute connectivity via different paths.

Microsoft 356 and Outlook have also confirmed service disruption for their customers in EMEA(Europe, Middle East and Africa region). Microsoft said “we’re investigating reports of an issue where some users in the EMEA region are unable to access one or more Microsoft 365 services….Majority of the reports are coming from South Africa and the United Kingdom.”

In a nutshell, it’s been seen that subsea cable repair is not something that can be done within period of days, especially similar issues; with several cables cut. Last year, Wacs and Sat-3 cables were destroy near the mouth of the Congo River due to an undersea landslide. The damages took engineers about a month to repair.

How to fix submarine cable
A method used to repair subsea cables.

According to Wikipedia, subsea cables are rare to break even with subjected natural disasters. Report say, you can rarely record 50 repairs per years in the Atlantic alone. However, when cable got damaged, a cable repair ship will be sent to the location to drop a marker buoy near the broken pair and pull it up for potential repairs.