Saturday, February 02, 2008

Interuption on net connection next 10 - 15 days

Damage to the trans-Atlantic submarine (undersea) cables will continue to slow down Internet traffic and affect IT-BPO firms for another 10 to 15 days across India, even as Indian telecom operators say they are diverting traffic over alternate routes.

The voice operations (call centres) of IT-BPO firms —which comprise around 20-30 per cent of most firms in India — will be the most affected since the International Private Leased Circuits (IPLCs) are down. An IPLC is a point-to-point private line used by an organisation to communicate between offices that are dispersed throughout the world.

Submarine cables are laid beneath the sea to carry telephone and Internet traffic. They can be broken or damaged by fishing trawlers, anchoring, undersea avalanches and even shark bites. In 2006, an earthquake centred near Taiwan had severed several undersea cables, and Internet services slowed to a crawl across major parts of Asia. This time around, a storm struck the Egyptian coast on January 30, making it impossible for ships to dock at the Alexandria port.

This prompted some of the ships to anchor off seas, and it is believed a ship dropped its anchor right on the top of the submarine cable channel. The multi-country consortium cable SEA-ME-WE-4 (SMW-4) and Reliance Communications-owned Flag cable systems were mainly affected. Bharti Airtel and Tatas-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) are Indian consortium partners and cable landing operators of SMW-4.

The companies admitted to the disruption, but added that traffic was being moved over to another consortium cable, SMW-3, which was put up by 90 countries. Other consortium cables like SAT-3 and SAFE were also believed to be affected.
Apart from India, Sri Lanka, the UK, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the Gulf countries (serviced mainly by Flag), and Europe (SMW-4) were also affected. Egypt was the most affected. In India, “there has been a 40 to 50 per cent cut in bandwidth,” according to Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of India.

The big operators have transferred their broadband connectivity through the Pacific route, he said, adding: “there’s an urgent need to create more capacity so that these problems do not recur”. Smaller BPOs did admit they were badly affected but did not wish to go on record.

The larger ones said they have built-in redundancy that does not make them very vulnerable. For instance, Keshav R Murugesh, president and COO, Syntel, admitted that “there was some problem. But we have connections from both the Pacific and Atlantic routes so if one route is affected the load automatically gets transferred on the other route”.

Those firms that have delivery centres around the world will not be affected as much since they can divert some work to other centres. Moreover, a considerable amount of high-end analytics work can be done offline. Explained Integreon senior vice-president (knowledge operations), Lokendra Tomar: “We have four ISPs to cater to our requirements. This builds in redundancy. Besides, we have moved some of our work to our other delivery centres. Hence, we can mitigate the effect to quite an extent.” “While risk diversification on the Internet and IPCL connectivity is a costly option, this outage will particularly hit companies which have not prepared for such an eventuality,” noted Alok Shende, head (IT and telecom), Ovum India.

Repairing a broken undersea cable Find the location of the accident; drag the damaged part to the surface, and replace it with a new stretch of cable May also send light pulses along the fibers in the cable to determine the exact location A working fiber will transmit those pulses all the way across the ocean; a broken one will bounce it back The telecom operator then sends out a large cable ship with a few miles of fresh fibre-optic lines If the faulty part of the cable is less than about 4,000 feet down, a submersible robot can be sent The robot finds the right place; grabs hold of the cable; cuts out the malfunctioning section, and pulls the loose ends back up to the ship Robots do not work in very deep water.

In such cases, technicians use a grapnel to cut the cable and hold it A skilled technician (jointer) splices the glass fibers; uses adhesives to attach the new section of cable The repaired cable is then lowered back to the seabed on ropes