News / Science & Technology

Sabotage Threat to Undersea Cables is Overblown

Undersea fiber optic cables carry the bulk of intercontinental Internet traffic. (Courtesy Telegeography.com)
Undersea fiber optic cables carry the bulk of intercontinental Internet traffic. (Courtesy Telegeography.com)
TEXT SIZE - +
The recent arrest of three men diving near a damaged undersea fiber optic cable off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt and damage to another nearby cable a week earlier led to a flurry of speculation that the network of cables carrying the bulk of the world’s internet traffic could be at risk of sabotage.

But those who operate the cables, as well as those who monitor the industry, say such speculation is overblown.

“I don’t expect to see a rash of sabotage,” said Mark Simpson, the CEO of SEACOM, which owns the SEACOM cable system, including fibre pairs on the Telecom Egypt North cable that was cut by a ship's anchor in the Mediterranean Sea on March 22. “It’s not the kind of thing that keeps people like me awake at night.”

SEACOM is also an owner and user of capacity on many other systems in Africa and the Middle East including the South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe (SEA-ME-WE) 4 near which the divers were arrested late last month.

Julian Rawle, a managing partner at Pioneer Consulting, and an expert on the submarine fiber optic cable industry, said sabotage such as terrorist attack on a subsea cable is a “little bit far-fetched.”

Tim Stronge, a researcher with Telegeography, a telecommunications market research and consulting firm, said “as far as I know, there has never been a deliberate case of sabotage of an undersea fiber optic cable.”

Rawle added that because of increased redundancy, cutting one cable probably wouldn’t cause a dramatic and widespread outage. He said $1.3 billion is invested in new cables every year, which translates to roughly 20 to 30 short, medium and long-haul cables installed annually.

According to Stronge, even though the pace of increasing global bandwidth has slowed in recent years, “the growth is still tremendous,” with the world’s international bandwidth having doubled between 2010 and 2012, he said.

When there are disruptions, Rawle said, people in an affected area might notice Internet slowness or even a brief blackout. But he added that most operators have agreements with other operators, which allow them to temporarily shift traffic onto undamaged cables. He said the amount of time to make those switches can be as little as a few seconds.

While sabotage is not a big worry to those in the undersea fiber optic cable industry, the cables are vulnerable to ship’s anchors, fishing nets, fishing equipment and natural disasters, particularly earthquakes.

Rawle said the security of the network is “something on every cable operator’s mind 24/7.”

“When it goes down, they lose customers,” he said. “It’s the number one priority.”

According to Simpson, there are many things cable operators do to minimize the chance for damage, including armoring them with steel, especially near the shore. Where the cables make landfall, he said they are protected by concrete encasements.

To lessen the chances of damage by a dragging anchor, he said industry works with local port authorities and tries to keep cables away from shipping channels when possible. In especially vulnerable areas, the cables are sometimes buried and even run through rocks as further protection.

The shipping and fishing industries are regularly made aware of new cables, he said, and in some ports, ships are monitored via a tracking system and warned away when they approach a cable, especially if they are slowing down and give the appearance that they might drop anchor.

Simpson added that when there are incidents such as the recent ones near Egypt, industry will come together to try to agree on better ways to protect the cables.

One possible example, according to Rawle, is to try to avoid the bottleneck in the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

“In recent times, people have built alternative terrestrial routes through the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, Iran, and Russia, he said. “People are looking at alternate routes around Africa as alternative to Suez” because, he said, the political situation in Egypt is causing operators to reconsider running cables through it.

Stronge added that with regard to Egypt and fiber optic cables, there are “a lot of eggs in that one basket.”

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid