Submarine Cable Cuts – What is the Real Story?

(Last Updated On: February 6, 2008)

We’ve seen a flurry of outages on some of the major submarine cable systems:

Some points everyone is missing.

First, as I pointed out on a NANOG post, cable outages happen all the time. Nothing new. that is why we have a large fleet of ships to repair cables. At the time of these recent outages, 2/3 of the fleet were deployed on jobs (on station, in transit, or in prep) . So it is nice to have attention on this critical resource, but the events are not news. What is news relates to the impact of the outage …. which leads to my second point.
Second, why did the telecommunications providers not safe guard their business by trading and investing in capacity around choke points? Many of the countries most impacted are not stuck with one submarine cable. They have multiple paths. Most submarine cables which land in the effected countries are way stations – where you have two paths going out. What does this mean? It means that each of these telecommunications providers have options. Options which allow for redundancy and recovery planning.

Map of Flag - Cable outage

The real story is the lack of redundancy planning. Engineers did not work out how their telecommunications services would recover if known areas of common submarine cable incidents really happened. Now, some would say that redundancy is expensive. True, but that is part of the business. Plus, if you get into the planning, asking about recovery option, talking to peers (competitors) about swapping reserved capacity during an emergency, or looking at Layer 3 recovery options, reveal options. But these options will not appear unless the engineers responsible for the “engineering” work ask the questions. These engineers are the IP engineers – pushing on the layer 2 (circuit), and layer 1 (submarine systems engineers) know exactly what is happening with their telecommunications paths.

For example, asking the submarine company for the list of all their cases where a repair ship had to be sent, where these happened, and the mean time of repair are all facts which are provided to their customers. All it takes is knowing that you can ask for it, then pushing to get it. When you are spending millions of dollars a month on these telecommunication services, you need to ask for the information to safe guard that investment. As seen in the attached map (from Flag), thes submarine cable companies can and will provide the information you need to understand, plan, and implement effective telecommunications recovery plans.

This is not new! We – the telecommunications industry have done this in the past – why cann’t we do it today? The Internet is our new Next Generation Network (IP NGN) for all telecommunications. We cannot throw out the baby with the bath water moving forward with IP NGN.