Internet service in and around Mogadishu, Somalia suffered a crippling blow recently as the East African Submarine System (EASSy) cable, which provides service to the area, was cut by the anchor of a passing ship. The government of Somalia estimated that the impact of the submarine cable cut was US$10 million per day and detained the MSC Alice, the cargo vessel that reportedly caused the damage.
The cable was repaired on 17 July. The incident is the latest in a series of recent submarine cable breaks (see Nigeria, Ecuador, Congo-Brazzaville and Vietnam) that remind us how dependent much of the world remains on a limited set of physical connections which maintain connectivity to the global Internet.
Internet in Mogadishu
Any individual or company that is found not following the order will be considered to be working with the enemy and they will be dealt with in accordance with Sharia law.
The government of Somalia urged its telecoms not to comply with the Al-Shabaab ban. Then in February 2014, technicians from Somalia’s largest operator Hormuud Telecom were forced at gunpoint by Al-Shabaab militants to disable their mobile Internet service.
At that time, Internet service in Mogadishu was entirely reliant on bulk satellite service, which has limited capacity and suffers from high latency when compared to submarine cable or terrestrial fiber-based service. Liquid Telecom’s terrestrial service to Mogadishu wouldn’t become active until December 2014 and the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland in the northern part of the country use terrestrial connections to Djibouti for international access.
Despite the threats from Al-Shabaab, Hormuud Telecom elected to press ahead with its planned activation of new service via submarine cable that would be crucial for development of Mogadishu’s economy.
— Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) January 22, 2014
January 2017 Outage
Somalia held a presidential election earlier this year and as the candidates were getting ready for their first nationally televised debate, the country’s primary link to the global Internet went out. Many Somalis were understandably concerned:
— ali.j.jira (@alijira) January 31, 2017
Internet blackout in Mogadishu shatters illusion of freedom during the presidential election in Somalia.
— Bile Abdisalam (@BileAbdisalam) January 31, 2017
— Mohamed Ali (@MohamedAlimas) January 31, 2017
The following graphics depict how this outage impacted WIOCC service into Mogadishu as well as Mozambique.
Recent Cable Cut
At 17:47 UTC on 24 June 2017, the spur from the EASSy cable leading to Mogadishu was severed by a passing ship — not an uncommon occurrence according to the International Cable Protection Committee, an advocacy group whose aim is “to protect the world’s submarine cables.”
The long awaited ship has just docked at the fault point of fiber optic cable to fix the problem. Hopefully Somalia w get internet soon. pic.twitter.com/6afOSOgF2n
— Ilyas Ahmed (@IlyasAbukar) July 12, 2017
As illustrated in the graphic below, the loss of EASSy caused Hormuud to revert to medium-earth orbit satellite operator O3b and, to a lesser degree, Liquid Telecom out of Kenya. As we have noted in the past, O3b enjoys a latency advantage over traditional geostationary satellite service; however, a satellite link cannot replace the considerable capacity lost due to a submarine cable cut. As a result, during the cable outage, there were widespread connectivity problems in Mogadishu.
A couple of months after the EASSy cable went live in 2014, BBC reported on the ‘culture shock‘ sweeping Mogadishu due to the introduction of high-speed Internet service. Its absence informs us of the value the EASSy cable brings the Mogadishu economy: $10 million/day.
Presently, Mogadishu is lauded as one of the fastest growing cities in the world and is enjoying a resurgent economy primarily due to the withdrawal of Al-Shabaab but also due to improved telecommunication services, the lifeblood of a modern economy. If it wasn’t for the heroic work of the dedicated telecommunications professionals in Mogadishu in 2013 and 2014, this service could have never been established.