Cable Damage: Pakistan’s PTCL Satellite Backup
By Pervaiz Lodhie &
The SEA-ME-WE-3 fiber optic internet
cable was reportedly damaged on Monday at the floor
of the Arabian Sea 50km south of Karachi, Pakistan.
A service vessel belonging to E-Marine, a UAE company
hired for cable maintenance, was dispatched from
the United Arab Emirates to undertake repairs.
This has been a major
blow to the IT industries both at Pakistan and India.
Some better-funded Indian call centers had switched
over to satellite backup systems, where available,
but that not all centers had invested in such connections.
While in Pakistan,
Pak Telecom Company Ltd - PTCL, Pakistan’s
major backbone provider scrambled to provide immediate
satellite backup systems on priority to major Business
Process Outsourcers and International Call Centers.
Damage to the undersea
telecommunications cable SEA-ME-WE3 (SMW3) Monday
initially disrupted most of Pakistan's international
telephone and Internet connections, but the outage
spread to India, the United Arab Emirates, Oman
and Djibouti as repairs were started yesterday.
Anthony Mitchell reports
“Call centers in India using connections through
the Reliance Group, India's largest corporate conglomerate,
to SMW3 to reach customers in the U.S. were experiencing
service outages for the past day, they reported
to InternationalStaff.net, a company that specializes
call center program management, etc.”
He adds “There
have been conflicting reports on the expected duration
of the service disruptions caused by the damaged
cable. The Press Trust of India, Reuters, Pakistan
Press and Xinhua have all reported that disruptions
are anticipated to last for two weeks.”
Pervaiz Lodhie, President
and CEO, Ledtronics Inc. Los Angeles, one of the
leading firms of the LED [Light Emitting Diode]
industry, who outsources its complete MIS, BPO and
Call Center support to NBA Computers, Karachi, said
that aside from a slight glitch felt on Monday in
the services being outsourced to Pakistan, “it
was business as usual for us. We have not experienced
any problems or service degradation from working
with NBA Computers at Karachi, Pakistan.”
Babar Jhumra, Managing
Partner, NBA Computers International Call Center
and BPO in Karachi, Pakistan, said that call center
operators in Pakistan have been told that service
levels on SMW3 could be restored as early as the
end of the day today. He also said that he was satisfied
with PTCL’s performance in providing immediate
sat-link. Although officials for the Internet Service
Provider Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) have said
that repairs might not be completed until Friday.
SMW3 provides Pakistan
with its sole high speed cable access. All call
centers in Pakistan serving international customers
have been without their usual level of telecommunications
service since Monday.
The government of
Pakistan has provided satellite backup systems to
international call centers in that country at no
charge to those centers, in order to make them more
internationally competitive, and all international
call centers in Pakistan are reportedly operating
on satellite backup connections now.
Mr. Nasser Jhumra,
CTO and Partner, NBA Computers based in Los Angeles
added that “vital satellite backup services
have kept the call center industry in Pakistan functioning,
and degraded line quality was next to minimal.”
IT firms that did
not qualify as pure international call center operations
and have not been allowed independent access to
satellite backup capacity in Pakistan have reportedly
been particularly hard hit.
Additional two new
satellite connections have been reportedly added
to the existing three sat-links providing Pakistan
with 80% of in international bandwidth needed by
the International Call Center and BPO industry,
which is also enough to support about 1,500+ voice
lines using conventional technology.
According to ISPAK,
there are over 50 ISPs in that country, serving
more than 10 million Internet users who have only
been able to send and receive emails but not to
surf the internet.
The view from NBA
Computers' Jhumra was positive. He said that when
service disruptions initially occurred on Monday,
his center lost Internet connections for only a
few minutes, but their voice connection has been
on satellite backup systems provided by PTCL, since
then. Jhumra said that NBA Computers is possibly
among the few call centers still operating in Pakistan.
As a pure call center
operation, NBA has been receiving satellite backup
service continuously and at no cost since service
on SMW3 was initially disrupted. However, satellite
service has latency issues.
“In tests conducted for InternationalStaff.net
late yesterday, NBA Computers reported a latency
rate of 450-550 milliseconds between Pakistan and
the U.S. using satellite backup lines. Latency rates
above 500 milliseconds are considered below commercial
quality, at least for extended use. Indian call
centers tested by InternationalStaff.net have also
been within the 450-550 milliseconds latency range
when using satellite uplinks.”
Jhumra said that work
is underway to provide a separate telecommunications
link for Pakistan, SEA-ME-WE-4 (SMW4), which is
scheduled to go live this October.
SMW4 will provide
Bangladesh with high speed connectivity as well,
ushering in competition for IT outsourcing services
opportunities from an English-speaking country that
to date has largely remained on the sidelines of
the outsourcing boom.
The lack of a redundant
communications link is the most significant of Pakistan's
IT challenges. There are also plans underway to
build a high speed telecommunications link between
Pakistan and India, which would provide additional
redundancy to both countries.
Anthony Mitchell, C.E.O. InternationalStaff.net,