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Undersea Cable Damage Causes Internet Outages Across Africa

Undersea Cable Damage Causes Internet Outages Across Africa
Installation of internet and power cables for mining rigs at the Minto cryptocurrency mining farm in Nadvoitsy, Republic of Karelia, Russia, December 17, 2021.

Damage to at least three subsea cables off the west coast of Africa is disrupting internet services across the continent. 

The West Africa Cable System, MainOne and ACE sea cables — arteries for telecommunications data — were all affected on Thursday, triggering outages and connectivity issues for mobile operators and internet service providers, according to data from internet analysis firms including NetBlocks, Kentik and Cloudflare. The cause of the cable faults has not yet been determined.

Data show a major disruption to connectivity in eight West African countries, with Ivory Coast, Liberia and Benin being the most affected, NetBlocks, an internet watchdog, said in a post on X. Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon are among other countries impacted. Several companies have also reported service disruptions in South Africa.

“This is a devastating blow to internet connectivity along the west coast of Africa, which will be operating in a degraded state for weeks to come,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis firm Kentik.

The cable faults off the Ivory Coast come less than a month after three telecommunications cables were severed in the Red Sea, highlighting the vulnerability of critical communications infrastructure. The anchor of a cargo ship sunk by Houthi militants was probably responsible, according to assessments by the US and cable industry group the Internet Cable Protection Committee.

The Red Sea is a critical telecommunications route, connecting Europe to Africa and Asia via Egypt. The damaged cables carried about 25% of traffic in the region, according to estimates from Hong Kong-based internet provider HGC Global Communications, which uses the cables. It was re-routed via alternative cables, including via the west coast of Africa.

Together, the problems with cables on either side of the continent create a capacity crunch, with customers of those cables scrambling to find alternative routes.

Africa’s biggest wireless carriers MTN Group and Vodacom Group Ltd. said connectivity issues on undersea cable failures were affecting South Africa network providers. “Multiple undersea cable failures between South Africa and Europe are currently impacting network providers,” Vodacom said in a text message.

MTN said services in several West African countries were affected and it was working to “reroute traffic through alternative network paths” and “engaging with our partners to speed up the repair process for the damaged cables.”

Microsoft Corp. reported disruptions to its cloud services and Microsoft 365 applications across Africa.

“We have determined that multiple fiber cables on the west coast of Africa have been impacted which reduced total capacity supporting our regions in South Africa,” said Microsoft in a status update, adding that the Red Sea cable cuts are also impacting the east coast. “The combination of incidents has impacted all Africa capacity — including other cloud providers and public internet as well.”

Last year, the West African Cable System, along with another cable – the South Atlantic 3 – were damaged at a slightly different location, near the mouth of the Congo River following an undersea landslide. The loss of the cables knocked out international traffic traveling along the west coast of Africa and took about a month to repair.

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