Internet outages hit India industry

Published: Friday, February 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 8:37 p.m.

NEW DELHI - India's lucrative outsourcing industry struggled Thursday to overcome Internet slowdowns and outages after cuts in two undersea cables sliced the country's bandwidth in half.

The disruption - which has hit a swath of users from Egypt to Bangladesh - began to affect much of the Middle East on Wednesday, when outages caused a slowdown in traffic on Dubai's stock exchange.

Such large-scale disruptions are rare but not unknown. East Asia suffered nearly two months of outages and slow service after an earthquake damaged undersea cables near Taiwan in December 2006.

The cables, which lie off the coast of Egypt in the Mediterranean, were snapped as the working day was ending in India on Wednesday and the impact was not immediately apparent.

But by Thursday, the Internet was sluggish across the country with some users unable to connect at all and others frustrated by spotty service. The Internet Service Providers' Association of India said the country had lost half its bandwidth.

In all, users in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain were affected. Engineers in several countries were scrambling to reroute traffic to satellites and to other cables.

The biggest impact to the rest of the world could come from the outages across India, where many U.S. companies outsource customer-service call centers and other back-office operations.

"There's definitely been a slowdown," said Anurag Kuthiala, a system engineer at the New Delhi office of Symantec Corp., a security software maker based in Cupertino, Calif. "We're able to work but the system is very slow."

"There's no sense of how soon the problem will be fixed," he added.

Officials said it could take a week or more to fix the cables, apparently cut north of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, as they scrambled to reroute traffic to satellites and through Asia.

A top Egyptian telecommunications official said that workers wouldn't know for sure what caused the cuts until they are able to get repair ships and divers to the area, though there was speculation a ship's anchor was to blame. The official in Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Rough weather and seas prevented repair ships from getting to the site Wednesday, the official said - and it was unclear how soon they could get there. Even once the repair workers arrive at the site, it could take as long as a week to repair the cable, the official said.

India has built up massive amounts of bandwidth in recent years and is likely to be able to handle the situation without major economic losses, analysts said.

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