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INCM: “Internet Connectivity Disruptions Cost Operators Millions of Meticals”

INCM: “Internet Connectivity Disruptions Cost Operators Millions of Meticals”

A few weeks ago, Internet connectivity in Mozambique and other African countries suffered significant interruptions, an incident linked to failures in the SEACOM and EASSy submarine cable systems, which are essential for the network infrastructure.

Tanzania and the French island of Mayotte were the most affected countries, with a severe loss of access. Mozambique and Malawi experienced a moderate impact, which partially compromised communication and online activities, causing losses of millions of meticals for the operators.

In an exclusive interview with Diário Económico, Salomão David, director of Communications and Statistics Services at the National Communications Institute of Mozambique (INCM), explained in detail what the possible causes of the incident were, its impacts and what mechanisms will be adopted to prevent future cases.

In general, how many fibre optic submarine cables are there in the country and how do they work?

There are a total of three submarine cables in Mozambique. These go round the African continent, passing through Durban in South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon and somewhere in Algeria, which means that all the servers used in the country are in Africa.

Submarine cables are laid in the ocean between land stations to transmit telecoms signals across stretches of sea. They work as if they were the true veins and arteries of the Internet because, although many connections today are made via Wi-Fi or even satellites, there is an infrastructure hidden in the oceans that is responsible for more than 90 per cent of data transmission between countries and continents.

Optical fibre has no speed limit. It generally depends on the multiplexing equipment [a device that selects information from two or more data sources into a single channel] used by each organisation.

The vast majority of the world’s Internet traffic is transmitted via submarine cables. This includes emails, social networks, streaming videos and many other resources.

In short, these submarine cables are extremely important. That’s why the telecoms sector tries to avoid cases of fibre cuts as much as possible in order to prevent socio-economic damage.

What factors determine the failure of a fibre optic cable?

A fibre cut in the ocean can be linked to various reasons. For example, it could be due to a ship dropping its anchor close to a fibre line when docking, and then lifting the anchor without paying much attention, dragging and breaking the cable.

There are fires that happen on the high seas that also damage cables, as well as technical errors and equipment breakdowns.

So when this happens, there are logistics to be worked out, where sailors and engineers go to the bottom of the sea to connect the fibre cables, and this is a very expensive and costly process.

In concrete terms, we can clarify that a fibre cut causes extreme situations, with some places being left without communication on all call routes. As a result, some operators may not be able to surf at their usual speed and have to opt for secondary links, which makes the network congested.

Recently, Internet connectivity in Mozambique and other African countries has suffered significant interruptions. What exactly happened?

We had an interruption in the telecoms system due to failures in the SEACOM and EASSy submarine cable systems, which in addition to Africa, provide access to other countries such as India, Pakistan and the United States of America.

Fibre cuts don’t happen every day. So we can’t say that it’s normal. The scenario has affected many national operators, especially Mozambique Telecom (Tmcel), Movitel, TVCABO and a small part of Vodafone M-pesa.

On the continent, the situation was disastrous. Some countries were left without communications and had to route their calls to Mozambique, because there was no other way, and they had to find ways to dispose of their traffic.

Basically, nobody knows or says anything about the recent situation. Everyone just says that there was a fibre cut. So for the exact answer, we’ll have to do it after a while, as soon as the assessments and investigations [are finished], a situation that could take three months.

Submarine cases are very expensive and require an investment of billions of dollars. This is because we’re talking about putting telecommunications infrastructure at sea. Most of the time the funding comes from joint ventures, i.e. there are companies dedicated to this type of industry.

Apart from Mozambique, which other countries have suffered from the breakdown?

According to the data collected, the list of affected countries includes Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya (the Mombasa region didn’t suffer, but Nairobi was cut off), Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Uganda and Rwanda.

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What were the impacts of this breakdown on the operators?

For Mozambique, we can say that millions of meticals were lost. Just to give you a clear idea, in our telecoms market, several operators had a loss of connection for hours, and when this is the case, companies stop selling, and stopping selling means adding up to big losses, where millions and millions are lost.

How is the situation these days? Is everything stable now?

The situation is normalised. Fortunately, the country has a good satellite transmission service. For example, those who were using TVCABO’s network had serious problems, but those who were connected via Starlink’s network didn’t even realise there was a fault.

It’s important for a country to have different types of technology for communication and not rely on a single method. This facilitates digital migration.

What prevention mechanisms can be used to avoid similar cases in the future?

To have an exact answer, we first need to have the report to know what happened. In the past, when there was a similar story with ships docking in places with fibre cables, the authorities drew up a letter explaining that there are places where you couldn’t dock or drop anchor. Just to remind you, the last cable cut was 10 or 15 years ago and it was because of a ship. Every situation teaches us something.

Text: Cleusia Chirindza


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