Two undersea communication cables that are critical for network operators in South Africa snapped on the same day, which has resulted in disruptions to the internet. Some websites might load slowly, and others not at all.
The West Africa Cable System (WACS) and the South Atlantic Telecommunications Cable number three (SAT-3) both broke on 6 August, in the Congo Canyon reportedly due to a rockfall in the canyon.
Openserve confirmed that the break in the cables occurred, and said that a consortium of partners is working to restore these cables.
While invisible and unknown to most, the network of fiber optic cables under the water are crucial in enabling the global internet by allowing for the high-speed transfer of high volumes of telecommunications signals across the world.
David Belson the head of data insight at Cloudflare, one of the biggest networks operating on the internet, said that Cloudflare “noticed severe degradation from the cut”. A network performance issue report was submitted for Johannesburg.
“As all South African networks are currently experiencing a crunch in capacity due to this cut, we saw an increase in traffic, which took some time to mitigate,” said Belson.
The WACS and SAT-3 cables are not the only underwater cables that run to South Africa, meaning and some service providers might have significant capacity on other cables.
Google’s Equiano undersea cable broke ground in South Africa in August 2022.
Openserve said the extent to which the telecommunications companies that make use of the cables will be affected by the cable breaks depends on the extent to which the companies have capacity on other cable systems.
Belson said that some cables are considerably more expensive to use than other cables, and some companies will only have capacity on one or two cables.
Vodacom spokesperson, Byron Kennedy, said that some “disruption in traffic flows,” are to be expected from the cable breaks.
“The unplanned, sudden removal of key routes like WACS and SAT-3 can be expected to result in initial disruption in traffic flows,” said Kennedy.
Openserve said that the impact of the breaks on their network is limited to customers on the international private leased circuits services. It said that Openserve’s network “remains robust due to our investment in other international cable capacity”.
Vodacom also said that it makes use of geographically diverse international routes.
But, Cloudflare warned that there may still be websites that are hosted in the US or Europe that feel slow or don’t work at all as the international capacity to go to Africa or Europe is significantly reduced.
“This will make websites feel slower, or just not work at all. Networks are actively working on bringing up new capacity to deal with the cut, while work is underway to repair the break, which may take weeks to repair,” said Belson.
Kennedy said that the cables are maintained by a cable ship called the Leon Thevenin, which is currently busy with repair work near Kenya.
Kennedy said that the cables are expected to be repaired by the second week of September, weather permitting.