WACS and SAT3 outage – South African ISPs respond

Many South African Internet users have been experiencing poor Internet speeds since last week, thanks to cable breaks on the WACS and SAT3/WASC submarine cables.

The WACS and SAT3/WASC cable systems are deployed in the Atlantic Ocean and connect South Africa and other African countries to Europe.

The WACS system lands in South Africa at Yzerfontein, Western Cape – while the SAT3/WASC system enters South Africa at Melkbosstrand, Western Cape.

Openserve said the unusual and simultaneous dual cable break has resulted in customers experiencing reduced speed on international browsing.

The company noted that it is always challenging to repair a broken cable in the ocean and that the repair time depends on weather conditions.

Process has started

Good news is that the process of repairing the broken cables has begun after the weather in Cape Town improved.

Adverse weather conditions had prevented the cable repair ship from departing to fix the breaks.

Openserve said on Tuesday that the ship was loading the necessary tools and supplies for the repairs and all loading will be complete by Wednesday evening.

Once this process is complete, the ship is set to depart at around 18:00 today.

ISPs respond

The impact of the cable breaks on local Internet service providers depends on their capacity on other cable systems such as EASSy and Seacom.

If an ISP has sufficient capacity on all the cable systems which land in South Africa – WACS, EASSy, SAT3, SAFE, and Seacom – the impact will be minimal.

If an ISP relies solely on WACS and SAT3/WASC for international connectivity, the impact of this break can be severe.

MyBroadband therefore asked South Africa’s top ISPs what the impact has been on their networks.

Cybersmart – virtually no impact

Cybersmart CTO Laurie Fialkov said the impact on its network is minimal because of its redundancy.

“Whenever we extend our network we always do so with redundancy in mind as our 1:1 FTTE service guarantees no service impact even during a single undersea cable failover,” said Fialkov.

Cybersmart has equal capacity on WACS and EASSy to ensure this full redundancy.

He added that Cybersmart currently has excess international capacity, which means the WACS outage did not affect their customers at all.

“All our subscribers are now routing via the east coast, and the only impact is that Cape Town customers now have slightly higher latency,” he said.

“Our customers were unaware of the outage until they learned about it from the extensive media coverage,” he said.

MWEB – minimal impact

MWEB general manager for product, sales, and marketing Carolyn Holgate said the WACS outage had minimal impact on MWEB subscribers

While WACS is one of MWEB’s primary sources of international connectivity, the ISP has a redundant network in place.

The company uses WACS and Seacom, and its network is designed around a geographical north/south split.

“Our northern customers are routed to international transit via Seacom, while our southern customers are routed via WACS,” said Holgate.

“For customers who were routing via WACS there is an increase of approximately 20 milliseconds of latency caused by the traffic rerouting to our Johannesburg data centre,” she said.

There is another increase of 20-30 milliseconds due to the fact that Seacom physically follows a slightly longer route than WACS to London, she added.

“Overall the result is an increase of approximately 50 milliseconds in international latency, which would only really be noticeable for serious online gamers,” she said.

Cool Ideas – minimal impact

Cool Ideas co-founder Paul Butschi told MyBroadband it uses WACS as its primary path, with Seacom and IS Transit as alternatives. IS would be using Seacom and EASSy.

He said Cool Ideas subscribers will only see a slight increase in latency due to the east coast route being slightly longer.

Other than the higher latency, Cool Ideas’s services are not impacted.

RSAWEB – largely unaffected

RSAWEB is largely unaffected by the WACS outage as it has capacity on four major cable systems – WACS, EASSy, Seacom and SAT3.

While it uses WACS for its primary international connectivity, because it is the most direct path to London, it has full redundancy on other cables.

The ISP explained that the unlikely double cable system failure meant they were initially affected by suboptimal routing and packet loss internationally.

Its engineers and vendor partners worked to reroute traffic and apart from a slightly higher international latency its subscribers are not affected.

Webafrica – big impact initially, but things are better.

Webafrica CTO Alan Kirton told MyBroadband that it uses Openserve for its primary International route.

“They use numerous cable systems, but significant capacity is split between WACS and SAT3,” said Kirton.

“The loss of WACS would have gone unnoticed under normal circumstances, but the loss of both at the same time caused a significant drop in available capacity and put extreme pressure on the remaining routes.”

He said the lost capacity has been replaced via Seacom, adding that Webafrica still has access via Openserves other routes including SAFE and EASSy.

“We also plan on adding additional capacity in the coming day or two to ensure our users experience is back to its previous high standard,” said Kirton.

Up until Sunday night Webafrica subscribers experienced a degraded service on international routes, which means gaming or browsing internationally was slow.

“We have now managed to replace the lost capacity and more is on the way – so our customers experience should be back to normal,” he said.

Mind the Speed – virtually no impact

Mind the Speed’s head of customer success Siobhan Zurnamer said while they do use WACS as a primary international link, the break has had little impact on their network.

“The cable break has had little to no effect on our network, as we have the same capacities available on all our backup paths,” said Zurnamer.

“Certain Mind the Speed customers may experience a slight increase in latency, as all alternative subsea cables have a comparably higher latency than WACS.”

Now read: WACS outage – We tested Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom, and Rain

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WACS and SAT3 outage – South African ISPs respond