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Damaged undersea cables to blame for slow internet in Nigeria, others

Undersea cables

Two important undersea cables, the West Africa Cable System (WACS) and South Atlantic 3 (SAT3) that connect Nigeria to the global internet are said to be responsible for the slow internet the country is currently undergoing. The internet outage also affects the African countries along the corridor the cables are located.

The two cables link Portugal and Spain to South Africa where they terminate, with connections to several West African countries along the way. The current breakdown in service began near Libreville, Gabos according to Axxess, an internet service provider.

NetBlocks.org, a non-profit organisation that tracks internet shutdowns noted that about 12 African countries were affected by the internet outage. Apart from Nigeria, other countries that were impacted include Ghana, Cameroun, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Angola etc.

In Nigeria, MTN the largest telecommunication company in Africa sent an SMS apology to its customers promising that it was working with other stakeholders to restore normalcy. Meanwhile, some Nigerian bank branches also complained of slow internet service which led to long queues in many of the banks.

READ ALSO: Nigeria driving big economy with poor education sector

There are currently about 1.5 million kilometres of optic subsea cables globally. The first submarine cables was laid in 1858, a telegraphic cable connecting Britain to the USA. The next generation of submarine cables in terms of technology, were the coaxial and copper cables which were used by telephone companies. The TAT-1 (Transatlantic No. 1) was the first transatlantic telephone cable system and it was laid in 1956. Before 2009, only 16 African countries were connected to a submarine cable system. That number has since increased to 26 cable systems. As at 2016, submarine cable capacity reached 33 countries. About five of the cable networks are powering connectivity in West Africa. These include MainOne, Glo 1, WACS, ACE, and SAT-3. These cables also land on Nigeria’s shores.

Experts have noted that 70 per cent of the threats to submarine cables are not from natural causes but from external aggression. These threats fall into two categories namely fishing and shipping activities. Fishing activities include harmful practices like bottom trawling. Bottom trawling is an industrial fishing method where a large net with heavy weights is dragged across the seafloor, scooping up everything in its path – from the targeted fish to incidentally cutting fibre optic cables in the process or snagging at them in such a way that it causes a shunt. In the case of shipping, anchorage which happens when ships drop their anchors where there are submarine cables and it lands on them. In 2008, there was an Italy-Egypt incident in which shipping traffic cut three cables, reducing connectivity by 80 per cent.

Other threats include dredging activities and off-shore activities in the oil and gas industry; where oil and gas installation, production and maintenance activities occur near or along cable paths it could result in damage to the subsea optic fibre infrastructure.

Threats from natural disasters include submarine earthquakes and landslides, waves and ocean currents, tsunami and storm surges; extreme weather (e.g hurricanes); icebergs or volcanic activity; climate change among others.