• Robert Chaize

Suez Canal: telecoms hotspot

Mis à jour : avr. 10

The unprecedented 6-day blockage of the Suez Canal by the container ship "Ever Given", operated by the Taiwanese shipping company EverGreen Marine Corporation, reminds us of the importance of this axis in international trade. According to various official estimates, it is recognized that 10 to 12% of world trade passes through it. The consequences are numerous on an increasingly globalized and interdependent economy: loss of living goods (thousands of sheep in transit to the Gulf), disruptions in Western production chains which operate at a tight flow, rise in the price of oil. .. Not to mention the loss of income for Egypt.

But this region is also very sensitive in the field of telecoms. Indeed, several cables under-

sailors (SMW-X, EIG, Flag, GBI, IMEWE, PEACE…) are placed on the bottom of the channel which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. Thousands of phone calls, internet requests or e-mails pass through these submarine cables every minute between Europe and Asia. Like maritime traffic, telecommunications are sensitive to network cuts. On December 19, 2008, three near-simultaneous blackouts off Egypt affected the SMW 3 & 4 cables as well as Flag. The impact is immediate on operators with capacity losses of 50 to 80% for operators in the Middle East. In this case too, the economic consequences are immediate, the phone calls no longer succeed, the internet requests fail, the e-mails do not reach their recipients. It will take several days to get back to normal.

Why is there such traffic in this region? In either case, the Suez Canal passage is the fastest route between Europe and the Middle East or Asia. The transit of goods takes about two weeks there, it takes about ten additional days passing through the Cape of Good Hope. Thanks to these cables, the exchange of information is less than 100 milliseconds between Europe and the Gulf countries and more or less 200ms to Southeast Asia. It would be necessary to add 100ms passing through the south of Africa.

Aware of the risks, alternatives are being developed. A shorter sea route through the North Pole is possible, but only when the sea is not frozen. Rail freight is growing rapidly but only represents 2% of maritime traffic. On the telecoms side, consortia managing cables have partially terrestrial solutions bypassing the Suez Canal like PEACE. Regional cable systems like RCN (connecting UAE to Turkey via Syria) or JADI (leaving Jeddah to Istanbul via Damascus) have also been studied and at best only partially delivered due to the civil war in Syria.


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