Pakistan begins repairs to fix Internet outage

Work has begun on the repair of an undersea cable that provides Internet services to Pakistan, following an outage that has reduced bandwidth to the country since June 27.

It is not clear yet when the repairs will be complete, said Junaid Khan, president and chief executive officer of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd. (PTCL) in Islamabad. A clearer picture may emerge this evening or tomorrow, he told IDG News Service on Tuesday.

PTCL, a majority government owned telecommunications services provider, is the Internet backbone provider in Pakistan.

A fault in an undersea cable has affected the country's Internet connectivity and international telephony service since June 27. The fault was detected south of Karachi on the Sea-Me-We 3 (South East Asia Middle East Western Europe 3) submarine cable, the only cable link to Pakistan.

Restoring service may take at least another 48 hours, according to V.A. Abdi, secretary of the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), in Karachi, adding that there was more than one fault in the cable.

"They have located one fault and have lifted up the cable at one end," he said. "The people at PTCL are not giving much information, but we are picking up information from other sources."

Sea-Me-We 3 is 39,000 kilometers long in total and includes 39 landing points in 33 countries in Europe, Asia Pacific and Australia. Other countries on the affected segment of the cable are India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Djibouti, although Internet services to those countries were not affected, according to reports.

Emirates Telecommunications and Marine Services FZE (E-Marine), a submarine cable installation, maintenance, and repair company in the UAE, announced last week that it had been notified about damage to the undersea cable off the coast of Karachi and that it had dispatched a repair ship to the location. Another repair ship, called Niva, reached the site Tuesday, according to ISPAK.

As long as the Sea-Me-We 3 link is down, Pakistan has to make do with bandwidth of 100 Mbps (mega-bits-per-second) available via satellite, Abdi said. Through some ad hoc provisioning with carriers in the region, PTCL was able to increase the satellite bandwidth from about 34 Mbps before the mishap to the current 100 Mbps, he said. Before the cable fault, Pakistan was using bandwidth of about 775 Mbps, according to Abdi.

Pakistan's economy has been affected by the faults in the Sea-Me-We 3 cable, Abdi said. The country's fledgling call-center business has been hit, as have some e-commerce activities such as stock trading on the Internet and bank transactions.

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