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Undersea cable cut: Banks scale down operations as engineers battle to restore services

  • Telcos resort to backup channels, banks advise customers on alternative platforms
  • Cable firms deploy engineers to cut points, ATCON encourages investments in local data centres

The service disruption caused by Thursday’s cuts to the undersea cable supplying broadband Internet connectivity to Nigeria and countries in the West African sub-region, on Friday, forced many banks and other financial institutions, as well as telecom companies and allied firms to scale down their operations.

Customers of the financial institutions and telcos were also left frustrated as they could not carry out major transactions.

According to Saturday PUNCH, telecom engineers had been dispatched to the points of the cuts between Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire to quickly fix the fibre optic cables coming from Europe and restore services.

On Thursday morning, Internet outage was first reported in Ghana with the National Communications Authority issuing a statement that indicated that the outage was caused by “multiple undersea cable disruptions and affected mobile and fixed data services nationwide.

“The disruptions affecting multiple undersea cables responsible for carrying international traffic have occurred in Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire and with some disruptions in Portugal. This has led to a significant degradation of data services across the country.”

By afternoon, the undersea cable cuts had affected telecom services in other African countries, including Nigeria, slowing banking and other services run on Internet connectivity.

The Nigerian Communications Commission in a statement by the Director, Public Affairs, Reuben Muoka, confirmed that the undersea cable cuts disrupted data and voice services along the African West Coast.

The NCC stated, “A combination of cable cuts, resulting in equipment faults on the major undersea cables along the West African Coast, have negatively impacted data and fixed telecom services in several countries of West Africa, including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, and Cote d’Ivoire, among others,” adding that the cuts occurred somewhere in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, with an attendant disruption in Portugal.

It added, “Cable companies – West African Cable System and African Coast to Europe in the West Coast route from Europe – have experienced faults, while SAT3 and MainOne have downtime.

“Similar undersea cables providing traffic from Europe to the East Coast of Africa, like Seacom, Europe India Gateway (EIG), Asia-Africa-Europe 1 (AAE1), are said to have been cut at some point around the Red Sea, resulting in degradation of services across on these routes. In Nigeria and other West African countries, Internet access and speed have experienced disruptions in the six networks of service providers in the affected countries.”

The commission, however, said the operators of the affected cables had commenced repairs and services were gradually being restored.

“They have promised to work round the clock to ensure that services are restored to the affected countries within the shortest possible time. It is important to bring this information to the knowledge of corporate and individual consumers on these services,” NCC said in its statement.

MainOne, a key Internet provider for Nigerian banks, suffered a significant fibre cut leading to outages that has left some Nigerian banks offline, preventing customers from accessing banking apps or using USSD services.

Banks count losses
Some bank officials told Saturday PUNCH that the financial losses resulting from the disruption caused by the undersea cable cuts were huge though not yet quantified.

Spokespersons for different banks said the disruption caused to telecom services by the undersea cable cuts had a significant impact on their operations.

The spokesman for a Pan-African bank, who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “All the systems are down but there seems to be some improvements today (Friday) compared to yesterday (Thursday).

“We hear that the telecom operators have resorted to their backup system to back up critical services. Our systems are up but slow. The financial risk is so huge; money is being lost and we don’t even know how much it will be until when services are fully restored.”

The spokesman added that this development required that stakeholders and governments on the African continent take a critical look at the tech infrastructure in Africa and chart a new way forward.

The Head of Corporate Communications at Unity Bank, Matthew Obiazikwor, said the bank had reached out to customers to inform them about the disruption and alternative channels that they could use to carry out their transactions.

“What we are trying to do now is keep our customers informed about what’s going on and tell them to make use of alternative channels. They can do their transfers on our ATM points. The network supports only minimal services now,” he said.

A banker at Guaranty Trust Bank, who also spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not the official spokesperson, said that the fluctuations affected the bank at intervals.

“A lot of transactions are affected by this disruption,” he lamented.

At a Keystone Bank branch in Garki area of Abuja, customers were urged to hurry up with their transactions as security personnel warned of potential network disruptions.

However, a Keystone Bank official admitted that the problem stemmed from internal bank systems rather than external network providers.

Despite assurances of the bank mobile app’s functionality, some customers encountered obstacles while conducting transactions on it.

In contrast, a banker at Access Bank reassured customers of the resilience of the network infrastructure, explaining that every bank had its service provider and highlighted the importance of having backup systems in place to swiftly address any issues and ensure uninterrupted services.

“Every bank has its service provider. My bank’s network is doing fine. We always have a backup network provider. Once one has an issue, we switch to the next one. So far, we have not suffered any network issues,” the banker noted.

At the UBA in Ibafo, Ogun State, one of our correspondents observed that many customers were stranded at the Automated Teller Machine gallery as only one of the seven points dispensed and soon ran out of cash. Frustrated customers waiting to be allowed into the banking hall spilled over from the canopy provided and complained of the scorching sun.

At an Ecobank branch in the Abule Egba area of Lagos, one of our correspondents, who managed to get into the banking hall, was able to withdraw N10,000 over the counter instead of the N150,000 he requested.

Frustrated subscribers, customers

Telecom subscribers and bank customers, on Friday, continued to encounter difficulties accessing essential services, including making phone calls, sending messages, and conducting online banking transactions.

Visits by Saturday PUNCH to banks in Lagos and Ogun states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, revealed that the disruption slowed banking operations leading to frustrated customers.

A bank customer, Greatness Urrah, recounted a day of frustration and helplessness due to the service disruption.

He lamented being unable to send or receive funds from multiple banks, including Wema Bank and Zenith Bank, adding that this hampered his business operations and made him unable to purchase essential supplies, including fuel.

Urrah stated, “Yesterday (Thursday) was an absolute nightmare. From the moment I woke up until I went to bed, I couldn’t send or receive funds from my Wema Bank and Zenith Bank accounts.

“It felt like I was stranded in a financial desert, as I was unable to access the resources I needed to keep my business running smoothly. I couldn’t purchase fuel or raw materials essential for my operations. What made it worse was that every single one of my commercial banks seemed to be malfunctioning. It was as if the entire banking system ground to a halt.”

Some relief came his way on Friday morning. He said, “It wasn’t until this morning (Friday) that I finally managed to regain some level of functionality. As soon as I could, I transferred all my funds to my fintech app, and thankfully, it’s been a better replacement. Being able to use the app has breathed new life into my business operations, allowing me to start making up for lost time. But yesterday’s ordeal served as a stark reminder of the importance of having backup plans in place and remaining adaptable in the face of unforeseen banking challenges.”

However, a Zenith Bank official, Suleiman Zakan, claimed that the bank did not record any network challenges.

Another customer of the bank told Saturday PUNCH that he had been having issues making transactions with the USSD but not with the bank’s app.

In Lagos, Saturday PUNCH observed that the First Bank branch by Okota roundabout could not serve some of the customers due to poor network service.

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A customer, who introduced himself as Wale, expressed his frustration at being unable to rectify some issues with the customer service unit as he could not be attended to due to the service disruption.

Some customers, who also came to use the ATM points, expressed their disappointment as they were unable to make withdrawals.

A customer, Tolu Ajiboye, said, “As you can see, all the ATMs are out of service. I have also been to Sterling Bank on Ire-Akari Road but the ATMs are out of service as well.”

Another bank customer, Darasi Onwu, lamented that she had been unable to do any transactions on her banking app since Thursday morning.

She said, “I have been unable to make payment since yesterday (Thursday) morning for a medical test that I needed to do. Someone had to help with the required cash. I’m going to make a refund when I have access to my bank app. Other transactions are not going through either. It’s a mess.”

Saturday PUNCH gathered that of all the telcos in the country, MTN Nigeria was the most affected by the network disruption as it has the highest number of subscribers to its voice and data services.

The operator said in a statement that it was working with its partners like Bayobab to repair the damaged underwater digital communication cables along the West African sub region.

It added that Bayobab was also working with partners to mitigate the impact of the damage by rerouting traffic and enabling more circuits. MTN claimed that it already made progress in restoring service in some affected regions and remained committed to achieving full recovery as expeditiously as possible.

The statement read in part, “As confirmed by their consortium partners, on March 14, 2024, four subsea cables were cut. They are WACS, ACE, SAT3 and MainOne.

“Bayobab is also working with partners to mitigate the impact of the damage by rerouting traffic and enabling more circuits. The ACE and WACS have jointly initiated the repair process by mobilising a cable ship for a collaborative repair effort. While investigation and repair efforts are underway, Bayobab’s strategy focuses on successfully rerouting traffic, leveraging our extensive network, and collaborating with industry partners.

“Our network resiliency allows for the swift activation of new cables, facilitating faster rerouting and bolstering network resilience. By activating new cables, we quickly increase interconnectivity and establish alternative routes.

“Additionally, we are working with the cable consortiums and partners to enhance interconnection along both the west and east coasts, with further interconnections between WACS and Equiano, and the introduction of the end-to-end connection between WACS on the west coast and EASSy on the east coast.”

For Airtel Africa, a high-ranking source told Saturday PUNCH that the telco experienced minimal disruption in its activities due to its swift response to cable cuts through its dashboard.

The source revealed that each telco monitors cables and Airtel promptly augmented its Equiano capacity to 400 gigabytes upon detection.

“In Nigeria, such incidents are swiftly managed. Airtel bolstered its capacity around 8pm on Thursday, ensuring uninterrupted service for subscribers,” the source stated.

The Public Relations Lead at 9mobile, Chineze Amanfo, told Saturday PUNCH that the company had not experienced any significant disruptions. However, she was unable to provide an immediate update.

“I will need to call you back after obtaining the latest information from the network department. I’m currently working remotely from home today,” she stated.

Amanfo was unavailable to take further calls when our correspondent attempted to reach her again.

Saturday PUNCH learned that Globacom remained unaffected by the damage and continues to operate normally.

Similarly, data users, Internet service providers, and financial institutions relying on Glo 1 have experienced no disruptions.

The operator runs on the Glo 1 International Submarine Cable, which is the only one bringing traffic to Nigeria that did not suffer cuts.

The Globacom-1 submarine cable system is a 9800km submarine cable connecting Bude in the United Kingdom to Lagos and the rest of West Africa.

Customs agents stranded

Licensed customs agents operating at the nation’s seaports have lamented the difficulties encountered in making payments.

When one of our correspondents visited Ports and Terminal Multipurpose Limited at the Tincan Island Port, Lagos, on Friday, the agents lamented that the payment of some charges for cargo clearance had been very difficult and frustrating since Thursday.

A licensed agent, Mr Ikenna Ejiogu, said, “It has been so difficult and frustrating here. On Thursday when I wanted to pay the terminal and shipping charges for the car I was clearing, the transaction couldn’t go through because of the poor network

“I started trying to make the payment around 11am, but it didn’t go through until sometime around 3pm; it has been challenging.”

Another agent, Mr Toochukwu Nwaigbo, said he spent hours to pay the N1,000 Practitioners’ Operating Fee introduced by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria.

“I have been waiting for hours now to make the N1,000 PoF payment so that I can be issued a terminal delivery order and my cargo can exit the port. Without this payment, you can’t leave; this is causing extra delay for the cargo clearance value chain,” he lamented.

Another agent, Emeka Okwu, said he had been sitting at the terminal for hours just to make a simple payment, noting, “I have been sitting here since morning just to pay the N1,000 PoF for the CRFFN. The situation has been very frustrating.”

A trader at the terminal, who simply identified herself as Alhaja, said, “Since Wednesday, I have not received any alert from my account with one of the first-generation banks. I really don’t know what is wrong with the bank. This is really disturbing; I learned that it is not affecting Nigeria alone, but the whole of Africa and that they are already repairing the damaged undersea cables.”

‘Invest in data centres’

Meanwhile, the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria has said there is a need to locally domicile contents and put more investments in localised data centres to reduce the effect of disruptions in connectivity.

The President of ATCON, Mr Tony Emoekpere, told the News Agency of Nigeria that it was important to domicile contents locally as this would make for prompt fixing of outages and disruptions.

The ATCON president was reacting against the backdrop of the internet disruption that occurred on Thursday which had a major effect on banks and telcos in Nigeria and other African countries.

Emoekpere said most contents domiciled in the country were not affected by the disruption.

He stated, “Nothing can be done exactly to reduce the damage of submarine cables, but most importantly, there is a need to domicile more of our contents locally.

“Most locally domiciled contents were not affected because such contents were hosted in data centres localised in the country.

“There is a need for investment in more data centres in the country to reduce the effect of Internet disruption.”

According to him, Nigeria and South Africa were the least affected by the latest cuts because of more submarine cables coming into the countries.

Saturday PUNCH

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