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Vessel departs to fix WACS cable as ISPs re-route traffic

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 30 Mar 2020
In February, cable ship Leon Thevenin was used to fix broken undersea cables.
In February, cable ship Leon Thevenin was used to fix broken undersea cables.

A cable vessel is on its way to fix the broken West Africa Cable System (WACS) submarine cable that is causing slow Internet speeds in SA.

This is according to the latest reports from the RENAlerts service by SANReN and TENET. The reports say it is estimated the repair will be completed by 4 April.

The cable break was first revealed on Saturday by the South African National Research & Education Network (SANReN), a major user of the cable, which detected the break just before midnight.

The break came at a time when South African Internet service providers (ISPs) are reporting increased network traffic as more people are working and learning from home to curb the spreading of the coronavirus.

Says SANReN in a tweet: “WACS Outage Update: Cable vessel, the ‘Ile D'Aix’, under way to the SV8 (Highbridge UK) side cable break. ETA at cable ground –Tue 31/03/2020 09h00 UTC. Estimated repair date: Sat 04/04/2020.”

WACS is a submarine communications cable linking SA with the UK along the west coast of Africa that was constructed by Alcatel-Lucent.

The cable consists of four fibre pairs and is 14 530km in length, linking from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape of SA to London in the UK.

In January, WACS also suffered a cable break together with the SAT3/WASC cable, resulting in slow Internet speeds in SA.

The cables were fully restored in February.

Contingency plans

For the latest beak, ISPs have started putting in place contingency measures to mitigate the slow speeds.

Liquid Telecom SA, part of Pan-African telecoms group Liquid Telecom, yesterday announced it had mitigated network outages due to the unexpected loss of connectivity following a recent break in the WACS undersea cable.

“To help ensure continuity of service, Liquid Telecom’s network traffic is automatically re-routed during such outages,” says Reshaad Sha, CEO of Liquid Telecom South Africa.

“We are responding to new and increased demand from customers with additional capacity across alternate routes. Liquid Telecom operates a five-cable system for our international Internet capacity in South Africa. Our resilient architecture means the loss of the WACS capacity is unlikely to impact customers’ connectivity as demand surges.”

Last year, Liquid Telecom South Africa announced its advanced core network enhancements offering customers near unlimited bandwidth capacity, says the company.

“The replacement of our core network has not only catered to legacy performance issues but has made Liquid Telecom’s network one of the most technologically advanced, modern and reliable networks in South Africa and across the African continent. It has also addressed one of the core needs of local enterprises around network capacity,” Sha adds.

Seacom says while repairs on the WACS undersea cable systems are being planned, many ISPs will need to re-route their traffic via alternative paths, such as Seacom’s east coast undersea cable or other routes.

As a result of the WACS cable system issues, customers may experience increased latency as alternative routes are implemented.

“Seacom is aware that due to issues on the WACS cable system on Africa’s west coast, many African ISPs and their customers could be experiencing unstable or slower speeds when using the Internet. Seacom’s network platform is also affected by the WACS issues, but as the Seacom cable system on Africa’s east coast is continuing to work normally, Seacom endeavours to provide ISPs that rely heavily on WACS with diverse capacity on the Seacom cable system,” the company says in a statement.

Meanwhile, Angola Cables says: “Angola Cables has announced there has been an interruption in the supply of services on the submarine cable section of WACS which connects Seixal, Portugal to Highbridge in England. “

However, it says the services that Angola Cables provides to its customers remain operational across the 11 WACS cable contact points on the west coast of Africa.

Data connections and access to global content and services continue to be provided – given the robustness and redundancy of the Angola Cables network, it notes.

“As a top priority, Angola Cables and the consortium of WACS partners are working to restore the cable's full capacity to impacted customers as soon as possible.”

Telkom unit Openserve says it has activated additional international connectivity capacity. It explains this additional capacity will alleviate and minimise impact on Openserve’s network, and that of its clients, while repairs to the WACS and SAT3/WACS cable systems continue.

“We expect to have a full capacity when the SAT3 system comes alive tonight,” says the company.