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By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist


‘Netflix hour’ to be impacted as break in undersea cables could affect internet in SA

Rock fall in the Congo Canyon caused the breaks in the undersea cables.


South Africans could experience slow internet connectivity after two undersea communication cables that are critical for network operators in the country broke.

It is understood a rock fall in the Congo Canyon on Sunday caused the breaks in WACS and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT–3) undersea cables.

These are crucial for connecting South Africa to the rest of the African continent and Europe.

The disruption has affected online services including video streaming platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Netflix, and Disney+ among others.

Repairs

My BroadBand editor Jan Vermeulen told 702 it will take a month or more for a cable repair ship to reach the site of a break in the West African Cable System (WACS) about 3 600km northwest of South Africa.

“Progress is going to be slow this time. Exactly this same thing happened towards the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, just a couple of months before lockdown set in. So, it happened twice, a couple of months before the lockdown and then just as lockdown happened.

“It caused a huge problem because everybody was trying to work from home,” Vermeulen said.

Vermeulen added that the cable laying ship Léon Thévenin was mobilised for deep water repair.

“That time the cable laying ship that could repair these was in Cape Town. This time, the cable laying ship that needs to repair them was in Kenya. But the ship is on its way back to Cape Town and that’s going to take at least 10 days.

“It needs to refuel, get all the parts and crew it needs and make its way up to the location of the break before repairs can happen. The earliest time for the repair, we probably looking at the second or third week of September depending on weather conditions,” Vermeulen said.

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Impacts

Vermeulen added that while the WACS cable is incredibly important for South Africa’s internet operations, there is plenty of additional capacity on the east coast in the form of Seacom, including Google’s recently launch Equiano cable and the Facebook-backed 2Africa cables, which completely dwarfs the WACS cable.

“It’s literally 12 times bigger than the WACS cable,” Vermeulen said.

Vermeulen said the greatest impact of the cable breaks will be during the evening peaks, or what he called the “Netflix Hour”, which is between the hours of 6pm and 10pm at night, while there will be almost no impact during the business day.

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