CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt had less than half its Internet capacity available on Thursday because of breaks in two undersea cables that have also affected the Gulf region and south Asia.
The connections were disrupted off Egypt’s northern coast on Wednesday, slowing or stopping Internet access for users across parts of Asia, and forcing service providers to reroute traffic.
Egyptian Telecommunications Minister Tarek Kamel said his country’s Internet capacity would reach 45 to 50 percent by the end of the day.
“Capacity will be increased to 75 percent in 48 hours at the most through alternative cables and satellites,” he added, at a signing ceremony for a new cable linking Egypt and France.
“Now nearly everyone is connected, but by different degrees. Only call centers still have serious problems.”
He said it would take at least a week to fix the breaches, which are in segments of two intercontinental cables known as SEA-ME-WE-4 and FLAG.
India, home to three companies that have stakes in the cables, said in a statement: “It is expected that the links will be completely restored by the ... operators within 10 days”.
The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of 86 submarine cable operators dedicated to safeguarding submarine cables ( www.iscpc.org/ ), declined to speculate on the cause of the breaches.
“Investigations are still going on,” a spokesman said.
Egypt said it did not know if weather had been a factor. Storms forced Egypt to close the northern entrance to the Suez Canal on Tuesday, making ships wait in the Mediterranean.
The ICPC says more than 95 percent of transoceanic telecoms and data traffic are carried by submarine cables, and the rest by satellite. A single pair of optical fiber strands can now carry digitized information equivalent to 150 million simultaneous phone calls.
One of the biggest disruptions of modern telecoms systems was in December 2006, when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake broke nine submarine cables between Taiwan and the Philippines, cutting connections between southeast Asia and the rest of the world.
Internet links were thrown out in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines, disrupting the activities of banks, airlines and all kinds of email users.
Traffic was rerouted through other cables, but it took 49 days to restore full capacity.
While most cable operators say there is enough spare capacity in the network, the ICPC has urged governments around the world to be more aware of its strategic and economic importance when deciding whether to issue permits for the laying or repairing of cables in their waters.
In Cairo on Thursday, some residents said their Internet connections were working at slow speed, while others still had no workable access to the Web.
The digital blackout disrupted Egyptian financial market operations on Wednesday. Gulf Arab countries and India also reported significant disruptions to Internet connectivity.
Kamel said the $125 million submarine cable deal signed on Thursday by state-controlled Telecom Egypt and France’s Alcatel-Lucent would boost network service in the most populous Arab country.
India’s Bharti Airtel and VSNL are among the partners in the SEA-ME-WE-4 consortium, and Reliance Communications has a share in the FLAG cable.
Additional reporting by Charlotte Cooper in Bombay and Georgina Prodhan in Frankfurt; Editing by Kevin Liffey
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