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)
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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs