In an era dominated by digital connectivity, South Africa faces a looming crisis following unprecedented damage to three major undersea internet cables: Western African Cable System (WACS), South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3), and African Coast to Europe (ACE). This has exposed the vulnerability of the country’s internet infrastructure and the potential for far-reaching consequences.
The disruption is exacerbated by the repair vessel’s distant location on the east coast, situated 8,800 kilometres away, with mid-September being the earliest possible repair timeframe, contingent on favourable weather conditions.
The recent downtime of WACS and SAT-3 has sent shockwaves through the tech landscape, emphasising the fragility of redundancy systems in these critical cables. WACS, with its colossal 14.5 Terabits per second (Tbps) capacity, reveals the necessity for diversification and redundancy in connectivity architecture.
The root cause, a rockfall in the Congo Canyon, underscores the vulnerability that extends beneath the ocean’s surface. With the commissioning of the Google Equiano cable offering a promising 144 Tbps capacity, there is hope, but its integration is not yet complete, emphasising the need for proactive planning.
To avert a catastrophe, a paradigm shift in the approach to undersea cable redundancy is essential. Internet service providers must establish multiple routes across different cables, embracing a diversified approach that spreads the load and enables efficient traffic rerouting.
However, achieving absolute resilience comes at a cost, with a delicate balance needed between cost and reliability. The challenge lies in meeting society’s demand for high-speed internet while making necessary investments for a foolproof system.
The recent incidents serve as stark warnings, prompting a call to recognize the potential for even graver disruptions. Historical precedent, such as the Carrington Event of 1859, suggests the possibility of global-scale solar storms rendering entire cable systems useless.
As South Africa grapples with the fragility of its undersea internet cables, the call to action is clear. The industry must anticipate and mitigate potential disruptions, rethinking the design of cables and exploring innovative technologies for enhanced resilience.
For more information be sure to check out WAPA’s article: https://wapa.org.za/news/sa-at-serious-risk-of-catastrophic-internet-disruption
The Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA), established in 2006, is a non-profit trade association serving as the collective voice for the wireless industry in South Africa. WAPA aims to promote industry growth through self-regulation, best practices, and education about wireless technologies. Acting as an interface between government regulators, network operators, service providers, and consumers, WAPA advocates for progressive spectrum management and efficient regulations.
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