• Banks, business transactions suffer
• Operator apologises, says problem ‘resolved’

A large number of Internet subscribers experienced hitches while downloading and uploading content online at the weekend.With the challenge continuing into the new week, investigations showed that banks, financial institutions, and some Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs), which rely on the Internet to serve segments of the market, might experience difficulties in doing business. The hitches were as a result of cuts to submarine cable systems on the high seas in Europe, especially the West African Cable System (WACS), which serves the Nigerian market and some West African countries.

The WACS is an ultra-high capacity fibre optic submarine cable, linking Europe, West Africa and South Africa. It connects 14 countries and over two continents. This undersea cable carries telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean and sea and transfers about 99 per cent of international data on the continent.The affected subscribers were mainly MTN users, who faced tough times surfing the Internet.

MTN is the largest operator in Nigeria with 38 percent market share and about 67 million customers. The South African telecommunications firm has connected about 53 million people in the country to the Internet. Confirming the situation, the firm had in a text message apologised to its customers, saying: “Y’ello. We apologise for slow data speeds and difficulty with accessing the Internet. Please, bear with us as we work to resolve the issue. Thank you.”

On its Twitter handle, @MTNNG, it again apologised and explained that the slow Internet speed experienced by subscribers was as a result of damage to the international undersea cable. “Our engineers are working to resolve these challenges as soon as possible. Please, bear with us and look out for further updates,” it said.

Explaining the challenge, Openserve, South Africa’s largest telecommunications infrastructure provider, said the South Atlantic 3/West Africa (SAT-3/WACS) submarine cable, which links South Africa to Europe was damaged near Libreville in Gabon. The WACS, which links South Africa to the United Kingdom, also experienced outage along the coast of Luanda, Angola.

This is, however, not the first time damage to undersea cables has disrupted Internet services on the continent. In 2018, after the African Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable was severed, more than 10 African countries were affected, with Mauritania going offline for 48 hours.In the current disruption, consumers across some countries including Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Ivory Coast are having issues sending emails, surfing the Internet, making international calls and browsing.

It was learnt that the telco is already seeking alternative connection routes before the damage is fixed.Openserve disclosed that it has made its resources available to both the WACS and SAT3/WACS undersea cable consortiums, to assist with the repairs. If the issues are not resolved, however, affected telcos across Africa might begin to accumulate significant loss in revenue and subscribers.

Subscribers, who narrated their experiences, urged MTN to act fast and find a solution to the problem.Emeka Okoh, a businessman, said he became confused when he couldn’t download. “I actually thought I had run out of data, until I checked my balance and discovered I still had about 3Gb. It was the text message from MTN that doused my tension. They claimed they were having issues. I think they should resolve them as fast as they can. These challenges are running into three days now,” Okoh said.

Another subscriber, Subair Alli, in a telephone interview with The Guardian noted that MTN’s Internet service in the FCT, in the last 24 hours, had been at its lowest ebb.

“Seriously, we, in Abuja, have not been experiencing good coverage, both voice and data. The last 48 hours, however, have been worse. They should, please, help restore the facility because we rely on it to service some segment of the market.”

Alli, who also claimed he was unable to carry out online banking transactions via the Internet because of the downtime, urged all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to upgrade their facilities in Abuja and across the country.Meanwhile, in a text message, late Saturday, MTN claimed it had resolved the issue, saying: “Dear Customer, thank you for your patience. We’re glad to report that we have resolved all issues with our Internet service. We apologise for the inconvenience.”

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