SEACOM downtime: How you are affected

The SEACOM outage, which started on Monday morning, has severely impacted Internet and broadband services in South Africa, with numerous local Internet users reporting slow or no international connectivity.

The SEACOM outage appears to be caused by a submarine repeater failure resulting in service downtime between Mumbai and Mombasa. “Current investigations indicate that a repeater has failed on segment 9 of the SEACOM cable, which is offshore to the north of Mombasa. This unexpected failure affects traffic towards both India and Europe,” SEACOM said in a press statement.

Bad news for both Internet Service Providers (ISPs) using SEACOM and consumers is that the fault resolution may last a minimum of 6-8 days. “The actual duration is unpredictable due to external factors such as transit time of the ship, weather conditions and time to locate the cable. For this reason, the estimated duration of this repair remains uncertain,” SEACOM said.

This prolonged downtime places enormous pressure on ISPs with significant capacity on SEACOM to quickly find enough capacity on SAT-3/SAFE – not an easy task during a period where the 2010 soccer World Cup enjoys priority over most other capacity needs.

Affected ISPs

Numerous large ISPs are affected by the SEACOM outage, including Internet Solutions, MWEB, Afrihost, Axxess, Cybersmart and Openweb.

MWEB uses SEACOM as their primary provider of international bandwidth with a limited amount of redundancy available via the SAT-3 cable. “As an interim measure MWEB was able to secure alternative capacity on the SAIX network from about 5:00pm on Monday the 5th of July until about 2:00pm on Tuesday the 6th of July. At that time, SAIX withdrew the capacity due to concerns over their bandwidth commitments to FIFA for the Soccer World Cup,” MWEB explains.

MWEB added that it is in urgent and ongoing discussions with a number of providers to obtain alternative bandwidth until such time as the SEACOM capacity has been fully restored. “We are hopeful to have some relief during the course of this evening. In the interim, local internet traffic including browsing, e-mail and Internet banking is unaffected.”

Good news is that MWEB seems to have secured bandwidth on SAFE to complement its existing bandwidth through Telkom SAIX wholesale (hence SAT-3/SAFE).  This will alleviate most of their international transmission congestion, but MWEB CEO Rudi Jansen still expects to have to employ shaping and traffic prioritization to ensure a good user experience to all customers during the SEACOM outage.

Axxess explains that the SEACOM outage has brought the international bandwidth on their Internet Solutions-based accounts to a standstill, but said that some clients have the benefit of switching over to SAIX bandwidth.

“Fortunately for our PRO account users, they have the option to be converted to SAIX, which traverses the SAT-3 cable, at no additional cost,” said Axxess CEO Franco Barbalich.

FNB Connect also re-routed their traffic via SAT-3, but the company said that their subscribers can expect a slower response to international sites.  They are however not shaping any traffic at this stage.

Openweb founder Keoma Wright reiterates that the account type will determine the impact of the SEACOM outage on their customers, adding that their Gold account holders can expect P2P and torrents to be ‘heavily shaped’ on their accounts.

As a temporary solution Afrihost, whose ADSL needs are typically served by Internet Solutions, has set up a proxy server that will offer international access through their hosting infrastructure until SEACOM is back online.

“Our hosting infrastructure at IS makes use of SAT-3/SAFE. Clients need to set-up this proxy in their browser of choice. This connectivity is through a smaller bandwidth pipe and as such international access speeds will be much slower than our usual speeds. However, it does enable our clients to have full access to most international sites and services albeit at a slower speed,” explains Afrihost CEO Gian Visser.

“On top of this IS is currently working on rerouting their traffic over an alternate route but I am unsure of the exact details and nature of this. They’ve been testing it throughout the day and hopefully will get it stable and up and running shortly.”

Visser explains that their clients will experience slower international speeds while browsing.  “Email and surfing is prioritized and I think that P2P downloads are most likely not working,” said Visser.

The lucky ones

Cybersmart CEO Laurie Fialkov says that they have more capacity on SAT-3 than on SEACOM which means that their services are not severely affected.  “At the moment we have not shaped anything.  We are considering blocking p2p services tonight,” said Fialkov.

“Our services are currently just more heavily contended, but you must remember that we do not offer uncapped services so our contention ratios are very low,” explains Fialkov.

Vodacom Business customers should not be affected by the SEACOM outage at all.  “Vodacom is not affected by the SEACOM outage due to the networks redundant IPLC architecture,” says Vodacom Business’ Executive Head for Managed Network Services Gary Hart.

“Vodacom recognised the inherent risk with SEACOM due to its non-restorable service from the time we developed our Internet services. As such, Vodacom has taken the strategic decision to ensure that it has secured international capacity that is fully restorable via alternate undersea cable systems. Vodacom has ensured that its SEACOM capacity is fully restorable on SAT-3 and vice versa,” explains Hart.

Vox Telecom also has full redundancy on both SAT-3 and SEACOM, and hence the impact on their subscribers is also minimal.  “We have re-routed all the traffic that is routed through our network through SAT-3/SAFE,” said Vox Telecoms spokesperson Clayton Timcke.

“We have equal capacities on both and can handle full failover in the event of failure.  As such all customers directly connected to our network are not affected, so the service is normal.”

SEACOM downtime << Have you been affected?

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SEACOM downtime: How you are affected