• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Undersea cable damage disrupts mobile money transfers

Cable repairs to take 8 weeks as internet disruptions persist in West Africa

“I was unable to pay the Uber guy that brought me home last night,” Anthony Uche told BusinessDay.

“I tried to load data and get funds from my account throughout yesterday, and it didn’t work,” he explained.

Many Nigerians, like Uche, who couldn’t pay his Uber driver, faced disruptions to internet-dependent services on Thursday due to a combination of undersea cable cuts near Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal. This impacted bank services and mobile network operators in Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and others.

“Customers were left stranded as Point-of-Sale systems failed due to network issues,” a worker in a big store at Lekki lamented. Temiloluwa Godwin bemoaned how he could not pay for gas with PoS on Thursday because of network issues.

Many Nigerians were stranded in restaurants and malls as banks grappled with network downtime caused by the cable cuts.

In a notice on Thursday, Sterling Bank apologised to customers, saying, “We are aware that you may be experiencing difficulties trying to transfer funds, reach our customer care team, or transact via USSD and genuinely apologise for the effect of this on your day.”

Read also: Undersea cable cuts affect Internet service in Nigeria, others

Zenith Bank declared that the service disruptions are due to Internet outages and that it is working with its Internet service providers to reroute traffic through alternative routes.

Nigeria’s digital transactions have been on a steady rise, with total cashless transactions jumping to N600tn in 2023, underscoring higher uptake and dependence.

As the downtime persists, some banks have advised customers to use alternative transaction channels. FCMB, in a message to customers, asked customers to use its branches and “alternative channels (FCMB ATMs & POS) are available for you to carry out your transactions.”

Undersea cables are critical infrastructure for internet connectivity as they carry vast data traffic across continents. However, they are susceptible to damage, including accidental cuts, natural disasters, or technical malfunctions, and disruptions can significantly impact businesses, government operations, and individual users.

“The pipe carrying data to the banks, like to all of us, was cut. So, there were disruptions to their services,” Wole Adetuyi, managing director of Swift Telephone Network, stated.

Aside from banks, other online services were impacted in the affected countries with most telecom operators responsible for Internet connection recording downtime. In South Africa, for instance, Microsoft’s cloud service, Azure, was impacted, according to MyBroadband.

As of 22:35 South African time, Microsoft disclosed, “Efforts to re-route traffic to healthy infrastructure have been successful in providing service-side relief to many users.”

Read also: Cable cuts in Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal caused Nigeria’s Internet downtime

The Nigerian Communications Commission confirmed the outages, stating that cable faults on major undersea cables disrupted data and fixed telecom services in the region.

“Cable companies—West African Cable System (WACS) and African Coast to Europe (ACE) on the West Coast route from Europe have experienced faults, while SAT3 and MainOne have downtime,” it said.

It also noted that similar undersea cables providing traffic from Europe to the East Coast of Africa, like Seacom, Europe India Gateway, and Asia-Africa-Europe 1, have also been cut at some point around the Red Sea, resulting in the degradation of services across these routes.

Experts close to the matter told BusinessDay that most operators have shifted to alternative cables like Globacom’s Glo 1 and Google’s Equiano. “We quickly expanded capacity on Equanio, and we have some capacity on Glo 1. Our issue is almost gone, but we don’t have any congestion again,” sources close to Airtel (one of the operators) said.

Bayobab Group, a subsidiary of MTN Group, stated, “To mitigate the impact on our customers in the affected countries, our operations are actively working to reroute traffic through alternative network paths and engaging with our consortium partners to expedite the repair process for the damaged cables.”

MainOne declared, “We are working with cable systems that are not affected by this incident or previous outages to secure restoration capacity, and our technical team is working assiduously to begin the restoration of services, subject to availability of capacity and service configuration specifics.”

The cause of the undersea cable cuts is under investigation, and repairs are underway. Experts anticipate Internet slowdowns for a short period while these repairs are completed.

“It will likely persist for a while. As of now, they still don’t know what caused the cut. They have sent people to check under the sea to see if it was sabotage, a landslide, or a ship anchoring,” a source close to the matter said.

A Bloomberg report revealed that fixing the disruption to internet services may take weeks or months. “Repairs can take weeks to months, depending on where the damage is, what needs to be repaired, and local weather conditions,” a spokesperson at Internet analytics firm Cloudflare said in the report.

“This is a devastating blow to internet connectivity along the west coast of Africa, which will be operating in a degraded state for weeks to come,” Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis firm Kentik, added.