Internet outage disrupts business operations

Reem Nafie
6 Min Read

CAIRO: Egypt’s internet outage continued for a second day Thursday after two submarine cables in the Mediterranean were damaged the day before, causing a slowdown in business operations across the region and even as far as India. “We cannot function without [technology] in a global economy, IT manager of one of Egypt’s largest international banks told Daily News Egypt. But what if technology fails us, after the increased dependency on it for the past decade? Business transactions in Egypt – especially those that operate on an international level – came to a partial halt on Wednesday due to an internet outage caused by a disruption in the main undersea cable.Some users complained of slow internet connections while others had no access at all. Most companies Daily News Egypt spoke to reverted back to “old communication methods to keep business flowing on Wednesday and Thursday. Riham Abul-Leil, a purchasing coordinator in a textile export company in Alexandria, said that they had to use the fax to communicate with international customers – something they haven’t done in years.”Work was very slow and the fax lines weren’t functioning in full capacity, which caused a delay in the responses we received, she said.An employee at an oil and gas company took the day off because she could not communicate with the international vendors that are to set to participate in a tender next month. “I couldn’t call them by phone or send them an email, so I left, she said. International phone lines were also affected by the cable damage, which made communication impossible for many. Due to their dependency on international phone lines and data reception and transmission, call centers were substantially affected by the cable disruption. On the other hand, most banks reported minimal disruptions in operations because their systems are hosted locally. Each bank also has an internal network that links the different branches, therefore, only operations with international entities were interrupted. “Customers were not affected by any means and front desk operations proceeded smoothly, the IT manager of an international bank said. While the internet service improved considerably on Thursday – granting users slow access rather than none at all – the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) announced that the problem could take several days to solve completely.”The service came up to 40 percent [Thursday] morning and by [Friday] it was up to 70 percent, said Mariam Fayez, spokeswoman for the MCIT. “We are seeking alternative solutions such as satellite and alternative cable. According to the Agence France-Presse, the ministry appealed for users not to overload the backup system with hefty downloads and file-sharing applications. A maintenance ship was due to arrive at the location of the damaged cable on Thursday – which is reported to be between Alexandria and Palermo, Italy – to repair the problem. Many Middle Eastern countries suffered the same fate as Egypt, and the incident highlights the fragility of technology and how dependant people and business the world over are on the information highway. The cable owned and operated by Flag Telecom and Seamewe 4 was damaged for unknown reasons at 6 am on Wednesday. This is not the first time such an incident occurs in Egypt. On May 22, 2003 a submarine cable system – also owned by Flag Telecom – linking the Middle East and Europe was damaged, disrupting internet access and international communication in several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, for at least 12 hours. The cause was the 6.7 Richter earthquake in Algeria. “We received thousands of calls on Wednesday regarding the halt of operations, ranging from citizens to companies, it was like the whole country came to a halt, TEData technical support manager said.Unfortunately, the internet continues to depend on material goods like cables, satellites and other hardware that are subject to weather, and wear and tear. “The problem is that Egypt doesn’t have enough backup cables and alternatives to shift to when a crisis like this happens, he said. This could be one of the reasons why, coincidentally, MCIT Minister Tarek Kamel witnessed the signing of an agreement between Alcatel-Lucent and Telecom Egypt on Thursday to construct the underwater cable “TE North. The cable is set to cost a whopping $125 million and will reinforce the underwater cable infrastructure by linking Asia and Africa with Europe, in light of the increased demand for international communication via internet and voice, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday. While the new cable might help alleviate the effect of similar incidents in the future, business transactions and internet surfers will continue to experience difficulties until this cable is repaired.

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