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March 28, 2013 Comments (20) Views: 23484 Latency, Submarine Cables

Intrigue Surrounds SMW4 Cut

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It has been a rough few weeks for the global Internet, given numerous submarine cable failures and the largest DDOS attack ever reported. While we’re hard-pressed to find evidence of the purported global Internet slowdown due to the DDOS attack, the dramatic impacts of yesterday’s SMW4 submarine cable cut were profound. Recent reports that the cable break was the result of sabotage make the incident even more intriguing. In this blog, we detail what happened to some of the providers in four countries along the route of the cable: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India.

Impacts of the loss of SeaMeWe-4

This month’s submarine cable outages have profoundly degraded connectivity to the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In particular, last week’s EASSy and SEACOM outages wiped out connectivity in parts of East Africa from Djibouti to South Africa. As if that weren’t bad enough, the biggest submarine cable connecting Europe and Asia, SeaMeWe-4, suffered a failure at 6:20 UTC, 27 March.

Later in the day, the Egyptian Naval forces claimed that they had caught divers sabotaging a submarine cable off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. In any event, SMW4 clearly suffered a major failure, and as we will see below, caused widespread disruption of Internet services from Egypt to Pakistan.

These plots of latency measurements below show that westbound transit to Europe for many of these providers was either degraded or unavailable due to the SMW4 cut off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. These providers fell back on eastbound transit through the Far East, but these backup paths weren’t always up to carrying the load.


Immediately following the cut (marked with a red line), Egyptian incumbent, Telecom Egypt, experienced a brief disruption in Internet transit followed by a reshuffling of its transit providers as it lost service from Level3 and NTT.

8452latencies_Frankfurt_bgp02.fra1_s.png 8452latencies_SG_vps01.sin1_s.png

The loss of service from Level3 and NTT and gain of eastbound providers Bharti and Singapore Telecom (SingTel) is much clearer when the same data is viewed as a stacked graph of counts of traceroutes crossing through various providers into TE’s network:


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian incumbent, Saudi Telecom (STC), experienced dramatic increases in latencies to Europe as traffic shifted away from the severed submarine cable.

39386latencies_Amsterdam_vps01.ams2_s.png 39386latencies_LAX_bgp02.lax1_s.png

Headed the other direction from Saudi Arabia to Hong Kong, the cut caused STC to reshuffle its transit, but without the dramatic rises in latencies.

39386latencies_HKG_vps01.hkg1_s.png 39386latencies_SG_vps01.sin1_s.png

UAE (added 2 April)

As was the case with other Middle Eastern providers, Etisalat experienced a dramatic shift in traffic from Europe and the west, but less so from the east.

8966latencies_AMS_vps01.ams2_s.png 8966latencies_LAX_bgp01.lax1_s.png
8966latencies_FRA_bgp02-1.fra1_s.png 8966latencies_HKG_vps01.hkg1_s.png

Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company also known by its retail name, “Du”, appears to have weathered the cable cut without significant disruptions to either the west or the east.

15802latencies_LHR_bgp02.lhr1_s.png 15802latencies_AMS_vps01.ams2_s.png
15802latencies_HKG_vps01-1.hkg1_s.png 15802latencies_LAX_bgp01.lax1_s.png


The impact of the SMW4 cut on the Pakistani Internet has been severe, as reported by the Pakistani media.

Pakistani incumbent, PTCL, was already struggling due to the recent loss of another major submarine cable. The graph on the left shows that latencies from Frankfurt to PTCL went through the roof as traffic was re-routed around the world to get to Pakistan. From Singapore, (on the right) there was a minor disturbance, but not nearly as crippling as for westbound traffic.

45595latencies_Frankfurt_bgp02.fra1_s.png 45595latencies_SG_vps01.sin1_s.png

For Pakistan’s other international gateway, Transworld, the impacts were severe when connecting to both the west and the east.

38193latencies_NYC_vps01.nyc1_s.png 38193latencies_HKG_vps01.hkg1_s.png


With the loss of SMW4, India-based Bharti lost its main route to the west. Delays for Internet traffic coming from western Europe spiked. From the east, things were fine.

9498latencies_Frankfurt_bgp02.fra1_s.png 9498latencies_HKG_vps01.hkg1_s.png

Like Bharti, Vodafone India experienced dramatic increases in latencies for connections to and through Europe.

55410latencies_Frankfurt_bgp02.fra1_s.png 55410latencies_London_bgp02.lhr1_s.png

When connecting through the East, Vodafone India was largely stable. In fact, from Los Angeles, latencies improved slightly as traffic from LA was allowed to go a slightly shorter (and presumably more expensive) path across the Pacific Ocean instead of the Atlantic to get to India.

55410latencies_HKG_vps01.hkg1_s.png 55410latencies_LAX_bgp02.lax1_s.png


For me, one of the takeaways from the above analysis is that many of these providers have carefully engineered geographic diversity into their submarine cable strategy. However, the backup paths don’t always deliver relief. In Pakistan, for example, the loss of westbound transit has virtually crippled the Internet despite the fact that eastbound routes stayed up. It is almost the mirror image of the impact on Bangladesh in last year’s SMW4 cable cut near Singapore. In that case, Bangladesh lost eastbound transit due to the cable cut and the westbound backup just didn’t have the bandwidth to handle the load, leaving the country essentially cut off.

Finally, I’ll be giving a talk next month in Paris about visualizing the impacts of submarine cable breaks such as yesterday’s SMW4 cut at Suboptic 2013, the world’s largest conference about the submarine cable business. We obviously have a lot more to discuss now as an industry. If you are attending, please stop by and introduce yourself.

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20 Responses to Intrigue Surrounds SMW4 Cut

  1. MK says:

    Thank you so much. This was very informative.

  2. Rupert Fiennes says:

    Interesting. The question really is cui bono; and I’m really finding it hard to find a reason for a political group to want to cut the cable (although perhaps Egypt’s Salafists are the right kind of nuts!).
    Perhaps the operators got what they thought was a junk blackmail demand, and these guys were trying to make good?

  3. Thanks for such a precise and comprehensive analysis. The Arabs have taken numerous terrestrial initiatives (JADI, RCN and EPEG) to combat such crisis. Are these terrestrial links carrying any traffic? How about the Qatar-led GBI adding resilience to its Europe-bound undersea system by deploying a terrestrial link across Iraq?

  4. Sunil Tagare says:

    Egypt has become the biggest single point of failure in the world. Most of the cables are now landing in Abu Talaat and Zafarana. If terrorists take out one of these cable landing stations, there could be a massive disaster as the entire Middle East, Asia and Africa will almost go down. Hopefully after this event, the carriers will focus more on restoration which for the most part has been an afterthought. This is my writeup on the Egypt situation:

  5. Doug Madory says:

    Hi Abu,
    Thanks for the question. We have seen no evidence to suggest that any of these terrestrial initiatives are currently carrying traffic.

  6. Najeeb says:

    Very informative! Do you know anything about the repairwork going on? There is nothing online!

  7. Doug Madory says:

    I’m afraid that I don’t know the status of the repair. I am also not aware of any public resource that would answer your question about the progress of repairs.

  8. Abdulla says:

    Very informative analysis , My ISP Etisalat is claiming that everything is alright ? Do you think that they are stating something correct ? As i am experiencing huge pings when connecting to European servers. Furthermore , the current way we are connected to Europe is routed towards US before reaching London. Please help me with an answer that i can answer to many of us suffering from connection problems with European servers.

  9. Doug Madory says:

    Hi Abdulla,
    Would you be willing to post an example traceroute here? I would be happy to help interpret it for you and compare it against our data.

  10. Abdulla says:

    Here is the route :
    Tracing route to []
    over a maximum of 30 hops:

  11. Abdulla says:

    I also forgot to thank you for the fast reply , Sorry for being ignorant.
    Thank you very much , as you enlightened us with the actual problem while our ISP is pretty much ignoring us and stating that there is no problems in the connection.

  12. Doug Madory says:

    As your traceroute shows, Etisalat is handing off to Tata which is taking it the long way around the world. Etisalat is using eastern routes to Singtel, NTT and Tata to route traffic that was previously going over western routes to Telia, Level3, Savvis and Telecom Italia. Etisalat lost those connections when the SMW4 cable was cut. So it doesn’t surprise me it is traveling around the world.
    Etisalat is correct is stating generically that connectivity has been re-established, but they should pursue Tata as to why they take your traffic the long way around the world.

  13. Doug Madory says:

    Hey Abdulla,
    We’re all wondering here – are you trying to play Starcraft 2 or Diablo 3? :-)

  14. Abdulla says:

    Hello i just got my hand on DU’s USB Modem traceroute and surprisingly its performing better than my Etisalat Connection.
    DU Traceroute , the other one i posted above is Etisalat.
    Tracing route to []
    over a maximum of 30 hops:
    1 * * * Request timed out.
    2 71 ms 37 ms 39 ms
    3 41 ms 41 ms 39 ms
    4 54 ms 47 ms 47 ms
    5 46 ms 49 ms 45 ms
    6 45 ms 49 ms 41 ms
    7 80 ms 93 ms 87 ms
    8 66 ms 69 ms 79 ms
    9 62 ms 57 ms 87 ms
    10 209 ms 205 ms 213 ms
    11 196 ms 199 ms 199 ms
    12 * 202 ms 199 ms []
    13 209 ms 209 ms 209 ms []
    14 487 ms 519 ms 409 ms []
    15 599 ms 639 ms 736 ms []
    16 200 ms 205 ms 205 ms []
    17 * * * Request timed out.
    18 * * * Request timed out.
    19 * * * Request timed out.
    20 * * * Request timed out.
    21 * * * Request timed out.
    22 * * * Request timed out.
    23 * * * Request timed out.
    24 * * * Request timed out.
    25 * * * Request timed out.
    26 * * * Request timed out.
    27 * * * Request timed out.
    28 * * * Request timed out.
    29 * * * Request timed out.
    30 * * * Request timed out.
    Trace complete.
    Also according to your experience , how long might it take for the SMW4 to be fixed , like a guess would be cool ( i wont go and state it any social media sites , just for personal reference).
    Thank you for your time !

  15. Abdulla says:

    Yes am trying to get in connection with one of Blizzard’s Servers. Now am scared that you would know my current location :p.

  16. Doug Madory says:

    Yes, if look to the analysis above, Du has fared much better than Etisalat in this particular incident.

  17. Doug Madory says:

    Look over your right shoulder…

  18. Abdulla Al Romaithi says:

    now im pinging 120ms to Europe , 120 to 150 basically , pings are now better in Abu Dhabi , theirs diffrent ip’s u get assigned from etisalat , ips that start with 217.164 or 86.96 or 92.99 or 94.59 and others…. , anyways the ones thats giving me now good pings to europe is 86.96 i will disconnect my modem now to get another ip base assigned from etisalat , it will probably be from another routing exchange server from our backbone , but il give u results if they are all fixed or not

  19. Abdulla Al Romaithi says:

    ok issue is back , seems that the isp was testing to see if lines we’re good but it was alright dunno why they reswitched them back to the old lines and routings …

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