The physical cables that connect internet networks are still the primary mode of connection for most countries, despite the existence of advanced levels of WiFi. Physical cable connection has always come with challenges: maintenance, and theft have been two consistent issues for network upkeep, particularly in parts of Africa where the copper in ethernet cables has been a regular target for thieves. Network operators and internet companies have begun to look to ways of delivering internet to avoid physical infrastructure — such as Facebook with its drone project, and Google with its blimps. But on an international scale, fiber optic cables are still the primary way to connect countries to each others’ internet, and — as the Philippines is witnessing right now — they can still rupture access on a large scale.
The Philippines’ major telco PLDT broadcast a message to its subscribers through its Facebook page describing the damage and extent of service disruption on one of its major underwater fiber optic cable systems:
One of the major international undersea cable systems in the region — the Asia Pacific Cable Network (APCN) — recently suffered two fiber breaks in the areas between Taiwan-Japan and China-Korea. This has impacted on telecoms traffic in a large area of the Asia Pacific region, including the Philippines. As a result, this may affect your data service. The APCN consortium that manages the cable system is now undertaking repairs and expects to finish in mid-April.
The company now says it has re-routed voice and data traffic to two other international cable systems: the Asia-America Gateway and the Asia Submarine Cable Express.
The cable disruption is affecting more than just Filipino web users, though; users across the Asia-Pacific region will experience outages. Vietnam is still just recovering from an undersea cable disruption from late 2013.
VISUAL CONTEXT: MAP OF UNDERSEA CABLES IN ASIA
Undersea cables will always be vital in connecting countries’ web networks — at least until Facebook figures out how to deliver the internet via drone. But even then, perhaps, they will be of a particular use, despite their vulnerabilities. Rumors have been swirling that Chinese network company Huawei is planning to lay its own undersea cables as China builds out its own metadata-capturing network similar to the U.S.’s NSA or the U.K.’s GHCQ. Secure, global connectivity still has a long way to go.