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The Headache Two Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

Updated Aug 10, 2017 04:32pm
What can be done to avoid internet interruptions in the future?

Like the character Ned Land in the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, most businesses dreamt of escaping the predicament they found themselves in last week, when a submarine internet cable under the deep oceans went offline, leaving the majority of internet users in Pakistan without internet access or extremely slow connections.

Lying on the ocean floor are several submerged optical fibre cables that deliver the modern miracle of the internet to all the countries from Western Europe to East Asia. The I-ME-WE (India, Middle-East, Western Europe) submarine cable carries the bulk of the internet traffic in and out of Pakistan. It is a 13,000-kilometre in length and is designed to deliver 3.84 terrabits per seconds (to the non-techies out there, this speed can download your entire season of Game of Thrones in less than a fraction of a second in HD). It was put into operation in 2009 and is fairly well-maintained but unforeseen problems tend to lead to internet disruptions.


In an ever competitive global market place this is not a situation to be taken lightly. A dependable national internet link is essential for Pakistan if it is to offer itself as an option for tech solutions.


To the general public these disruptions are a bit of a nuisance but for businesses they translate into lost revenue and even lost clients in some cases. A friend of mine at a tech start-up heavily dependent on the internet was majorly impacted because of the downtime experienced last week. Even more established businesses were extremely upset as they had difficulty in delivering services and meeting timelines. In an ever competitive global market place this is not a situation to be taken lightly. A dependable national internet link is essential for Pakistan if it is to offer itself as an option for tech solutions.

Even non-tech companies were affected as almost every business relies on the internet to communicate with clients, between its offices and vendors. We have become heavily dependent on this technology because the speed with which it helps deliver a solution is a 100 or even a 1,000 times faster than before the days of the internet.

But what are the alternatives? Satellite links also deliver internet but their bandwidth is much lower and bad weather tends to affect traffic sometimes. Satellite links are also very expensive in the long run and prove non-practical for the Pakistani budget-conscious market. They can be a temporary solution but clearly not an alternative to optical fibre. There are also new technologies being tested that would fit all commercial aircraft with devices to transmit data without interrupting their on-board systems. Another solution that is being tested uses lasers but it needs a constant clear line-of-sight and it will be years before a practical working solution can be delivered.


The relevant authorities need to start thinking. If they expect Pakistani businesses to compete in the market they need to provide a robust infrastructure with dependable contingency links. Communication has now become the backbone of every kind of business imaginable and without a reliable solution to fall back on, the country will struggle in a global marketplace.


So, for businesses here in Pakistan there is no immediate reprieve. One theoretical but practical solution could be to subscribe to bandwidths on alternate cables running near Pakistan. The SEA-ME-WE (South-East Asia, Middle East and Western Europe) number 3 and 5 cables along with AAE (Asia, Africa and Europe) Number 1 cable are good candidates. Some of them are used when the I-ME-WE is down.

Whatever the solution is, relevant authorities need to start thinking. If they expect Pakistani businesses to compete in the market they need to provide a robust infrastructure with dependable contingency links. Communication has now become the backbone of every kind of business imaginable and without a reliable solution to fall back on, the country will struggle in a global marketplace.

Syed Amir Haleem is CEO, Kueball Digital. syedamirhaleem@gmail.com