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“We have planned for circumstances like these,” says Nathan Linkon, a spokesman for Infosys, a large Bangalore-based outsourcing company. “We have diversity in path and providers, and we haven’t lost any connectivity to our offices or customers.”

With just two cables at issue, restoring service is expected to go more smoothly than did the 49-day process required after the Taiwan earthquake. Flag Telecom has told its customers that a repair ship that launched from Catania, Italy, will arrive and begin work today. The company said that Egyptian authorities are “expediting the permits” so that work can begin as soon as the ship arrives.

These repair operations have become fairly routine, with marine service companies on call around the world to launch a ship as quickly as possible when a nearby cable has been torn by a ship’s anchor or fishing net, or, more unusually, by a natural event such as an earthquake.

A repair ship will typically take several days to reach the site of a break, says Stephen Scott, commercial manager for the U.K.-based Global Marine Systems, which is not involved in fixing this week’s break.

A ship will locate the break in the line, sometimes by using a remote-controlled submarine device that can send signals up and down the cable, Scott says. The cable is then cut entirely at the break, and the little sub brings one half to the surface. Alternately, some operations simply use long grappling hooks to grab the cable.

Once the first half is brought to the surface, the crew splices on a long segment of replacement cable. The first half is let back to the sea floor; the other broken half is brought to the top, and the other end of the replacement cable is spliced on.

Unless the seas are rough, this double-splicing operation can take about 20 hours from start to finish, Scott says.

In the wake of the fiber breaks, Perhar says that his organization is encouraging ISPs and companies dependent on fast connections to continue diversifying their bandwidth sources as much as possible, and to lobby for new cable to be laid.

Telegeography Research counts at least four new fiber lines planned for the Europe-Egypt route over the next few years, including another by Flag Telecom, one by Telecom Egypt, another by the Egypt-based Orascom Telecom, and a fourth funded by the India-Middle East-Western Europe consortium of companies.

But even these will all use roughly the same route, says analyst Strong. That will keep this Mediterranean zone a “choke point” worth watching.

“With more cables, it’s getting better over time,” Strong says. “But there will still be a lack of physical, geographical redundancy. That is something of a concern.”

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Credit: Telegeography Research

Tagged: Web, communications, fiber optics

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