Last Thursday, the telecom and banking communities woke up with a rude shock. The operators’ services were impaired and their customers left in limbo.

 It took almost the whole day for the information to filter that the undersea cable carrying data network from Europe to Africa got cut somewhere around Cote D’Ivoire on the Atlantic Ocean.

The cut affected WACS, ACE, MainOne and SAT3 subsea systems on Africa’s western seaboard. By that time, banking and telecom services in Nigeria and some other countries in Africa have been disrupted.

Seacom, a South African internet connectivity provider, was heavily affected even as it told its customers that it is experiencing a service-affecting outage via the West African Cable System.

MainOne, a major internet provider for most Nigerian banks and internet providers, also suffered a major fibre cut in Ghana that knocked many major Nigerian banks offline.

It had to send internal communication to bank staff and customers, appealing for patience. Telecom company, MTN and other operators were affected heavily also as the WACS cable that carries its internet services was also affected

Preliminary tests on the damage suggested that it could take about two weeks or more to get fixed. This threw panic into the spines of telecom and banking public and operators on both sides started rerouting service

However, contrary to the expectation that the damage will last for about two weeks more, services started bouncing back between Monday and Tuesday.

Meanwhile, multiple African internet connectivity providers who suffered outages following the cable cut have narrated the pressure and troubles they went through in order to fix the problem.

 Telcos worked beyond normal schedule

Telecom companies in Nigeria which mostly bore the brunt of the disruption confessed that relevant engineers worked beyond schedules to ensure the disruption did not last more than necessary.

Chairman of the umbrella body of Nigerian telcos, Asssociation of Licensed Telecom Operator in Nigeria, ALTON, Engr Gbenga Adebayo, told Hi-Tech on Monday that whatever little disruptions experienced in the services of his members between Monday and Tuesday could only be as a result of backlog of congestions, occasioned by the cut.

He said: “As we speak, service is almost restored. When the problem happened almost every operator re-routed to alternative platforms and the effect of the congestion is what subscribers could be experiencing now. We have invested heavily on service restoration and I can boast that we are almost out of the challenge in terms of service restoration” he added.

 NCC confirms Restoration

Confirming the position of the telcos, the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission also released a statement, through its Director Public Affairs, Mr Reuben Muoka, saying services have been restored to approximately 90 percent of peak utilization capacities.

Part of the statement reads: “Following the disruption on March 14, 2024, which affected data and voice services due to cuts in undersea fibre optics along the coasts of Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, we are pleased to announce that services have now been restored to approximately 90 percent of their peak utilization capacities.

“All operators who were impacted by the cuts have taken recovery capacity from submarine cables which were not impacted by the cuts, and have thus recovered approximately 90 percent of their peak utilisation capacities.

Mobile Network Operators have assured the Commission that data and voice services would operate optimally pending full repairs of the undersea cables as they have managed to activate alternative connectivities to bring back the situation to normalcy”.

 MainOne’s activated ACMA agreement

For MainOne, another multinational cable company affected by the damage, it was a situation of panic although it knew what to do immediately it discovered what the problem was.

A reliable source at the company said: “After we diagnosed the problem We activated our maintenance agreement we have with Atlantic Cable Maintenance and Repair Agreement (ACMA) to provide repair services for the submarine cable. It first identified and assigned a vessel, the vessel had to retrieve the necessary spares required for repair, and then sailed to the fault location to conduct the repair work.

“In order to complete the repair, the affected section of the submarine cable had to be pulled from the seabed onto the ship where it was spliced by skilled technicians. Post repair, joints inspected and tested for any defects and then the submarine cable is lowered back to the seabed and guided to a good position”.

 WIOCC’s strategic role in addressing the Subsea Cable outages

Explaining its role in putting the cable cut to rest, one of Africa’s digital backbones, West Indian Ocean Cable Company, WIOCC,  said it actually led the continent’s response to the cable cuts. Group CEO of WIOCC, Chris Wood said his company’s highly resilient network, with hyperscale capacity on every major system is the largest in Africa and ideally placed to swiftly deliver restoration solutions to hyperscalers, fixed and mobile carriers, internet service providers and other clients, enabling them to quickly re-establish key traffic routes into, within and out of Africa, thereby minimising performance degradation for their end-customers.

According to him, “Immediately the four subsea cables were severed off the coast of Cote d‘Ivoire our engineering, operations and field teams swung into action. They have been worked tirelessly for the first 48 hours with our strategic network partners and equipment suppliers and within 24 hours, activated an unprecedented additional 2 Terabits per second (Tbps) of capacity across the unaffected cables in our network to support the capacity needs of other network operators and hyperscalers. Our clients connected directly at Open Access Data Centres (OADC) data centres in South Africa and Nigeria are already protected from the impact of the subsea outages due to the unique levels of redundancy and scale of the WIOCC core backbone.

“In Lagos, the Equiano cable, in which WIOCC owns a fibre pair, has not been affected by the incident off Cote d‘Ivoire. WIOCC lands the cable directly into the OADC data centre, establishing the most resilient digital ecosystem hub in Lagos and offering the most direct connectivity to Europe and South Africa” he added.

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