The cause of South Africa’s significant internet outage?

Estimated read time 3 min read

Internet services are being disrupted throughout Africa due to damage to at least three subsea cables off the continent’s west coast.

According to data from internet analysis companies like NetBlocks, Kentik, and Cloudflare, the West Africa Cable System, MainOne, and ACE sea cables—arteries for telecommunications data—were all impacted on Thursday, March 14, causing outages and connectivity issues for mobile operators and internet service providers.

The exact reason behind the cable malfunctions is still unknown.

Eight West African nations have significant internet outages, with Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Benin suffering the most. An internet watchdog named NetBlocks stated on X.

Among the other nations affected are Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana. In South Africa, a number of businesses have also reported service interruptions.

Doug Madory, director of internet analysis company Kentik, said, “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.”

Less than a month ago, three telecom cables were severed in the Red Sea, highlighting the vulnerability of vital communications infrastructure. This was followed by cable faults off the Ivory Coast.

The US and cable industry group Internet Cable Protection Committee have determined that the anchor of a cargo ship sunk by Houthi militants was most likely the cause.

Through Egypt, the Red Sea serves as a vital communications channel linking Europe with Africa and Asia.

The internet provider HGC Global Communications, based in Hong Kong, estimates that 25% of the traffic in the area was carried by the damaged cables.

It was redirected via different cables, one of which went via Africa’s west coast.

Together, the problems with cables on either side of the continent create a capacity crunch, with customers of those cables scrambling to find alternative routes.

Africa’s biggest wireless carriers, MTN Group and Vodacom Group, said connectivity issues on undersea cable failures were affecting South Africa network providers.

“Multiple undersea cable failures between South Africa and Europe are currently impacting network providers,” Vodacom said in a text message.

MTN said services in several West African countries were affected and that it was working to “reroute traffic through alternative network paths” and “engage with our partners to speed up the repair process for the damaged cables.”

Microsoft Corp. reported disruptions to its cloud services and Microsoft 365 applications across Africa.

“We have determined that multiple fibre cables on the west coast of Africa have been impacted, which reduced total capacity supporting our regions in South Africa,” said Microsoft in a status update, adding that the Red Sea cable cuts are also impacting the east coast.

“The combination of incidents has impacted all Africa capacity — including other cloud providers and public internet as well.”

Last year, the West African Cable System, along with another cable – the South Atlantic 3 – were damaged at a slightly different location, near the mouth of the Congo River following an undersea landslide.

The loss of the cables knocked out international traffic travelling along the west coast of Africa and took about a month to repair.

By Sam Mchunu

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