What caused the damage to SEA-ME-WE 5?

What caused the damage to SEA-ME-WE 5?

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Reports suggest that damage to the SEA-ME-WE 5 submarine cable system occurred in the straits of Mallaca, causing internet disruption in South Asia.

A statement from Bangladesh Submarine Cables Company (BSCPLC), one of the owners of the system, suggested that the cable damage occurred 440km from Singapore on Saturday.

As a result, all traffic between Singapore and SEA-ME-WE 5’s Kuakata landing station is down.

On April 17th, BSCPLC had announced that maintenance was due to be undertaken on the cable, which would cause temporary interruption of internet service, although it remains unclear if this maintenance was responsible for the outage.

“My impression based on the report of a temporary outage followed by the current long term outage is that the cable experienced a shunt fault where water penetrated the polyethylene insulation. The repeaters were able short term to compensate but the electrical short grew over time and the connection to the very important Tuas CLS in Singapore was completely lost,” speculated Roderick Beck, who sells subsea capacity to carriers for United Cable Company.

According to local press reports, Bangladesh is still able to access 100 Gbps of capacity from the western portion of the cable, which travels through the Red Sea and the Mediterranean to Toulon, France.

However, SEA-ME-WE 5 is one of only two subsea cables that connect Bangladesh, the other being the much older SEA-ME-WE 4 cable.

SEA-ME-WE 5’s fault means Bangladesh has lost 1.7 Tbps of international capacity. SEA-ME-WE 4 provides 800 Gbps and terrestrial fibre links provide 2.7 Tbps.

Back of a napkin calculation means that the fault has reduced the country’s internet capacity by approximately a third.

BSCPLC gave a timeline of just two or three days to repair the fault, which Beck attributes to the proximity of the fault to supply depots and cable ships.

This is in stark contrast to the cuts seen in the Red Sea last month, for which repairs are still yet to commence due to the instability in that region.

The SEA-ME-WE 5 cable is supplied by NEC and ASN. Bangladesh is due to receive a third subsea cable, SEA-ME-WE 6 in 2025, which will be supplied by SubCom.

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