The Internet's Weakest Link

By Rob Frieden
Rob Frieden The Internet's Weakest Link

This week two major transoceanic cables experienced outages that may last several days. The outages provide a reminder that several Internet bottlenecks exist where these cables make landfall.

When one thinks of bottlenecks in telecommunications the first and last mile come to mind. Yet equally vulnerable are the last few 1000 feet of submarine cable links. While most cables have "armor" to guard against breaks, a misplaced anchor still can cut the cord as apparently occurred in Egyptian waters.

On a global basis redundancy and alternate routes do exist, as well as the typically more expensive satellite option. But contrary to the conventional wisdom the Internet did not appear to route around the breaks with sufficient speed to prevent service outages. Two nearly simultaneous cable breaks provide a reminder of the Internet's vulnerability.

By Rob Frieden, Pioneers Chair and Professor of Telecommunications and Law. Visit the blog maintained by Rob Frieden here.

Related topics: Access Providers, Cybersecurity, Telecom


Re: The Internet's Weakest Link Fergie  –  Feb 03, 2008 9:30 AM PST

There were actually three (3) transoceanic cables cut last week — see also:

"Third Cable Cut Compounds Net Woes"

...and the Renesys folks have a lot of detailed information over on their blog:


- ferg

Re: The Internet's Weakest Link Baher Esmat  –  Feb 03, 2008 1:49 PM PST

A report by the Egyptian Ministry of Transportation said that cable cut was not caused by ship's anchor:

Re: The Internet's Weakest Link Ewan Sutherland  –  Feb 03, 2008 11:15 PM PST

Undersea cables break from time to time. Basic knowledge of plate tectonics tells you, for example, that Africa is moving north towards Europe. There was a massive outage in late December 2006, just south of Taiwan, cutting several cables.

The difference from corporate networks is that ISPs tend not to pay for the redundancy necessary to cover predictable outages.

There are alternate routes to India, across Russia, around Africa or across the Pacific, but buying capacity for an eventuality like a cable break is expensive. It is easier and much cheaper for ISPs to make a lot of noise for a few days, until the cable is repaired. Rather than provide 99.99999 per cent reliability, they just cut capacity to customers who have bought a best efforts service and must wait for the repair ship.