Vox: Understanding the impact of cable faults on SA internet

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2 April 2020, Johannesburg: The South African lockdown has resulted in a significant increase in internet usage as more people work from home and consume bandwidth-intensive content. As such, the significant investment Vox, an integrated ICT and infrastructure provider and telecommunications company, has made on redundancy is proving its worth in the wake of an outage in two of the undersea cables servicing the local market.

Vox has seen a 50% increase in international traffic since the state of National Disaster announcement by the President on 15 March 2020. This is contributed to the “lock down” and the fact the entire household is using the internet for entertainment and work.”

The high demand for bandwidth, has placed added pressure on the undersea cable infrastructure – and as such, you may have a slightly degraded experience depending on the website or application you are utilising.

For example – video conferencing services that rely on a bridging component, a server that mixes the video and audio streams received from user and sends back the combined output. Many of these services don’t have servers located in South Africa, which means video and audio travels all the way to Europe or North America and back. When undersea cable infrastructure is congested (e.g. during dual concurrent cable-breaks / periods of extraordinary usage), users may experience video and/or audio quality issues.

Accessing any website or application hosted internationally may be affected by similar degradation until the undersea cable infrastructure is restored – while browsing local websites or accessing locally hosted applications will be unaffected.

There are six undersea cables catering for the international internet needs of South Africans – Seacom; SAFE; EASSY, SACS, SAT-3 and WACS. Unfortunately, WACS, due to unforeseen circumstances, has been down since this past weekend, resulting in many home internet users experiencing slow internet speeds when accessing international sites or using apps reliant on international servers.  The cable is expected to be repaired by around 4 April 2020.

“Vox has capacity on four of the six cables ensuring we have a robust international break out infrastructure.  So, if there is a problem on one undersea link, we can still operate at full capacity and meet the needs of all customers even during challenging times such as the COVID-19 lockdown, where internet demand is higher than usual.

Think of each undersea cable representing a single lane on a highway.  If one lane is closed, there is still ample room for traffic to flow on the other three lanes.

However, if there is a problem on two lanes, there will be some congestion on the remaining lanes.

“Those fibre providers who only have capacity on one or two cables face some difficult questions from customers. Granted, the odds of two going down at the same time are remote despite it happening in January this year as well. But prior to that, it was something that just did not happen.

With telecommunication labelled an essential service during the lockdown, redundancy is critically important to ensure those able to work remotely are still able to do so and keep the economy going.

“In just a few days, the lock down has illustrated how integral reliable and functioning fibre infrastructure is to the productivity of a country. Customers that are reliant on international bandwidth must ensure that they understand their Service Provider’s international capacity and redundancy plans should a fibre break occur much like the ones we have experienced.  Installing fibre at a business or home can no longer be considered a luxury but a necessity to generate a livelihood in the digital age,” says du Toit.

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