If you’ve been experiencing a slow Internet connection in Kota Kinabalu & Malaysia (even slower than normal), you might also have noticed that it only affects some sites, most notably the ones in the US.
The Short Explanation
So what’s the story and why is the Internet connection in Kota Kinabalu & Malaysia so slow?
Well, said Telekom Malaysia in a small announcement that was only posted on their website 24 February (and I only discovered recently after some extensive searches), it’s a broken/faulty, sub-sea cable.
Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) wishes to announce that there is a disruption of its Internet services since 18 February 2009 due to circuit fault on the Asia Pacific Cable Network 2 (APCN2) between Kuantan – Katong in Singapore and Shantou – Tanshui in Taiwan linking Malaysia to the United States (US).
Due to this, customers using Internet services may now experience slow browsing while accessing content hosted in the U.S. In addition, customers using other IP services such as Virtual Private Network (VPN) and other critical business applications linked to the US may also experience some service degradation.
To alleviate the problem, some of the links have been rerouted to alternate routes to ease the congestion.
During the restoration process, traffic to Northern America may experience minor degradation while traffic to other countries is not affected. TM expects the complete recovery of its services by 5 March 2009. TM will make further announcements on the progress of the restoration works.
TM wishes to assure its customers that it is undertaking all necessary measures to restore communications services for its customers as soon as possible.
They’re making promises about the speed at which they will restore services that took them 6 days to realise were faulty? Maybe their services are usually so slow they didn’t realise the difference. But I digress.
Depending on where you are, traffic degradation will be anything but minor. Here in KK we’re experiencing major degradation.
The Long Explanation
So what are these APCN2, Kuantan – Katong and Shantou – Tanshui that they’re talking about?
In this modern day and age of satellites and data flying through the ether, it might be difficult to believe that the entire planet is spanned by unbelievably long cables that run along the ocean floor. Yup, thousands upon thousands of kilometres of cable run between the continents and that is what really connects the world.
Alarmingly frequently, these cables are cut. Anchors, fishing lines, friction, earthquakes – they can all cut or damage the cables and impede our communications. The cables carry not only Internet data, but also phone calls, and data for banks, airlines, newspapers, media, etc.
What is causing the slow Internet in Malaysia, is only indirectly causing it to be slow in Kota Kinabalu too. Let me explain.
APCN2 is a cable network that connects countries in Asia Pacific. Most notably, it touches China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. However, the network has specific ‘landing points’ where it reaches a country – from there a hub regulates traffic onto or from domestic lines.
So when Telekom Malaysia says there is a fault between Kuantan – Katong and Shangtou – Tanshui, it means the problem is along the line between Malaysia/Singapore and China/Taiwan. That’s a long piece of cable and it’s the same one that was responsible for the very slow Internet we experienced after it was damaged in several places by the big earthquake that hit Taiwan in 2006.
This cable has a bandwidth capacity of 2.56 Terabits per second.
How fast is that?
Well, 2.56 Terabits is equal to 327 Gigabytes. If your laptop is about a year or so old, it probably has a 160 gigabyte hard drive – and you know you can cram a lot of stuff on there. So this line can transfer TWO of your 160 gigabyte hard drives every second. Tick. 327 gigabytes just went down that line. Tick. Another 327 gigabytes. And so on.
Now imagine all the millions of people in all those countries that use a little slice of that bandwidth for their email, YouTube, web surfing, chatting, Skype, etc. and the banks who use some for transfers, transactions, etc. and the other people like the stock markets, weather services, airlines, etc. etc. Because this line has such a big bandwidth capacity that can serve so many people, when it’s broken many suffer.
Kota Kinabalu & Borneo
But APCN2 doesn’t server Borneo.
APCN2 lands in Malaysia in Kuantan, which is west Malaysia. Excluding satelites, it seems Borneo (Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei at least), get Internet through a hub in Brunei called Tungku. The line that services that hub is called SEA-ME-WE-3 – South East Asia – Middle East – Western Europe 3. The name tells you which parts of the world it connects.
So let’s say you’re in Kota Kinabalu and you want to go on Facebook, which is hosted in the US. You type the address and hit enter.
The browser sends your data request via first KK’s network and then Burnei’s network to the hub in Tungku. There it gets onto the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable. SEA-ME-WE-3 runs below the South China Sea, past Singapore and around to Penang. In Penang, it gets off the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable, and via west Malaysia’s data network it goes to Kuantan. In Kuantan it gets onto the APCN2 cable and zooms off to the hub in Shantou in China. From Shantou it goes to Tansui, Taiwan then on to Chongming in China. From there is goes to Pusan, South Korea before it ends up in Kitaibaraki, Japan.
Another route for data to travel is via Singapore and the Philippines to Emi, Japan (which is likely how our data is being routed now, due to the fault on the other route).
Either way, data is funneled to Emi, Japan from where it gets onto the Tyco Global Network (TGN) or Japan – US Cable Network (JUS), which goes to the US and lands in either Hillsboro, Oregan (TGN) or Manchester / Palo Alto / Los Anglese, California (JUS) and onto the US local data network to make its way to Facebook HQ.
Your browser then gets the information from the server via pretty much the same route, and loads it on your computer. If all cables along the route are in good repair, this entire return journey takes less than a couple of seconds.
Of course, as it stands such a request takes quite a lot of time. The main highway is broken, so traffic is being rerouted. As we all know, that causes traffic jams, which slows everything down.
Luckily they expect things to be patched up by March 5. And because I believe Telekom Malaysia is not involved in the repairs, it might actually happen on March 5. Here’s crossing my fingers.