Undersea Cable Outage Spotlights Satellites’ Virtue

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PARIS — One of the best arguments for satellite telecommunications bandwidth in a world carpeted with cable is on display following the outage, apparently due to an accidental cut, of the 18,000-kilometer-long SEA-ME-WE-4 undersea cable on March 27.

The cable, one of several connecting Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe, serves as the Internet backbone for many of its users.

Operator Seacom of Mauritius, which has battled several service outages recently, said it had provided alternate connectivity to about 90 percent of its customers within a day of the outage.

The company said the outage’s source had been traced to an area off the Egyptian coast, but on March 28 it dismissed reports that linked the arrest in Egypt of individuals trying to cut fiber cable with the SEA-ME-WE-4 problem. Seacom said “the presence of a large, anchored vessel on the fault site … appears to be the cause of the damage.

“The final cause of the cable cut will be determined once the cable is repaired in the coming weeks and the damaged section is recovered from the seabed and inspected,” Seacom said.

The company says its cable is on the seabed — up to 5 kilometers below the surface in the open ocean — and buried beneath the ocean floor as it approaches coastlines, making sabotage an unlikely scenario.

Satellite fleet operators have said their availability rates can match that of cable operators, and some fleet operators say their in-orbit backup means they can restore service that is interrupted by satellite failures at least as quickly as cable networks can.

They also agree that satellite connectivity cannot match cable’s cost per delivered megabit.