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Middle East operators 'unprepared' for emergencies

The Algerian earthquake of last month caught many telecoms operators in the Middle East unprepared in terms of alternative routing, according to analyst group IDC.

The Algerian earthquake of last month caught many telecoms operators in the Middle East unprepared, according to analyst group IDC.

The disaster, which severely damaged the high-capacity submarine networks of Flag Telecom and Sea-We-Me 3, the two key providers of internet connectivity to the Middle East, showed that operators failed to diversify their international capacity routes to prepare for such an event, said Mohsen Malaki, senior analyst in IDC CEMA’s telecommunications group.

"Telecommunications operators across the region suffered anywhere from 20% to 95% reduction in their international Internet capacity as a result of the incident," added Malaki.

While most operators in the region rely heavily on the Flag and Sea-We-Me 3 networks for IP-peering with internet backbones in Europe and North America, many are now looking for back-up through satellite connections or submarine cables linking the Middle East to the US through Asia-Pacific.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia currently have submarine capacity through Asia-Pacific, while internet service providers (ISPs) in Kuwait and Omantel, the incumbent operator in Oman have increased their satellite bandwidth.

Many operators are also looking to Emirates Internet Exchange (EMIX), Etisalat’s connectivity provider, for bandwidth, since the exchange maintains routes through submarine cables in both directions, through Europe and Asia-Pacific.

In the wake of the disaster, Malaki called for operators to maintain a more robust set of international Internet connections, through submarine and satellite links, along with a well-developed plan for a smooth transition to alternative routes in the case of an unexpected disruption.

This, he said, could be managed cost effectively through agreements for backup connectivity with regional Internet exchanges such as EMIX, which would, in turn, be able to maintain multiple international Internet bandwidth routes from international carriers at a more favorable price.

Obstacles such as the limited number of cable routes linking the region to Europe and North America and expensive satellite links, however, remain long-term problems for the region's operators, Malaki said.

"The abrupt, and prolonged, disruption in Internet services is a clear indication of the need for a more diversified route for international Internet traffic in the region," asserted Malaki.

"It is also clear that most operators have failed to develop reliable contingency plans to maintain their international capacity levels in the event of an emergency," he added.

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