Sri Lanka back online after cable cut

All internet services in Sri Lanka have been restored after damage to a digital fibre optic submarine cable cut off most of the...

All internet services in Sri Lanka have been restored after damage to a digital fibre optic submarine cable cut off most of the island country from the internet earlier this week.

The SEA-ME-WE 3 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe) cable of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), the largest telecom and internet services provider in the country, was damaged early Sunday (22 August), allegedly by an Indian vessel that dropped anchor in a prohibited part off the Sri Lankan coast.

Set up by a consortium of telecommunications service providers, SEA-ME-WE 3 connects Northern Europe to East Asia and Australia, spanning approximately 39,000km. It was set up as a follow-on high capacity cable to the earlier SEA-ME-WE 2 submarine cable system. SLT's connectivity to the SEA-ME-WE 3 is through a landing point off Mount Lavinia on the coast of Sri Lanka.

"The restoration of the cable is in progress, but services have been restored using our SEA-ME-WE 2 cable link and satellite connectivity," said Kapila Sri Chandrasena, chief marketing officer of SLT in Colombo. Besides a SEA-ME-WE 2 link, which it set up in 1994, and the SEA-ME-WE 3 link set up in 1999, SLT has three digital satellite earth stations.

"We are currently getting sufficient bandwidth for both our internet and telephony services," said Chandrasena, adding that with the SEA-ME-WE 3, SLT in fact has excess bandwidth.

Soon after the cable was damaged, telephony was restored early Sunday morning using the SEA-ME-WE 2 link, while international private leased circuits were restored soon after, according to Chandrasena. E-mail services were restored by Monday, while all other internet services including broadband were working normally again on Thursday morning.

Internet, international dialing and data services of 800,000 subscribers were affected in Sri Lanka, according to SLT, although some private operators, who have their own international gateways to the internet, were able to offer service.

SLT has claimed $5m in damages from the shipping company which owns the Indian vessel, MV State of Nagaland, and a district court in Colombo ordered the ship detained until a 6 September hearing of the case.

Chandrasena declined to comment on reports that the ship was released by the Sri Lankan navy because there was no evidence linking the ship to the cable damage and that SLT had, in fact, dropped its case.

It is not clear yet when SLT will be able to restore the damaged cable. SLT sent a cable repair ship to the site of the damage on to do physical repairs.

"The testing and rectification of the fault became more complicated since the restoration operation has to be carried out without interrupting other [international internet] traffic," SLT said.

After the damage to the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable, SLT is beefing up its routing options in both fibre optical undersea cable and satellite media, which will both increase the available bandwidth, and provide more backup alternatives in case of similar mishaps. 

SLT will now have direct connectivity to Singapore, Germany and India, apart from its direct routes to the US and Japan.

John Ribeiro writes for IDG News Service

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