Damage to undersea cables hits Net speed Blank calls, jarring voice traffic and a slow Internet connection due to the breakdown of three submarine cables have slowed down business in India and 13 other countries. The cables - Sea Me We 4 (SMW 4), Sea Me We 3 (SMW 3) and FLAG EA - run under the sea between Egypt and Italy and carry 90% of all data between Europe and the Middle East. Rajesh Chharia, president, Internet Service Providers Association of India, says, "The cables are expected to be down till the end of the month. One of the two maintenance boats in the Mediterranean, the Raymond Croze, a France Telecom marine cable ship, will reach the location on December 21." According to a France Telecom report, while Maldives is 100% down, there has been an 82% disruption in India. Among other countries affected are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar and Zambia. SMW 4 and FLAG cables were also damaged earlier this year in the Mediterranean. While speculation is rife, investigations revealed that one of the cuts was caused by a ship's anchor. Previously, SMW 3 was used to re-route traffic. But this time, it has also been damaged. SMW 4 and SMW 3 are owned by several companies including Bharti Airtel while the FLAG cable system is owned by Reliance Globalcom. BPOs as well as entrepreneurs in the travel and hospitality business are anxious about the interruptions that have added to their woes of erratic business in recessionary times. Virender Singh, manager, IT, at NIIT SmartServe Limited, explains that the BPO has three layers of redundancies (alternatives) in internet that cushioned the impact of slow connectivity. "The Bharti circuit was heavily degraded. We survived because of our Tata and VSNL circuits," he says. He also stresses on the fact that an alternative cable system enabled them to restore traffic via the Pacific route. "Otherwise, we would've missed our client SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and that's a scary thought." Chharia warns of packet losses and high latency on the Pacific route due to a diversion of traffic from the Atlantic route to the Pacific. "There could be greater packet losses, especially in data, unless the service providers become active and increase the capacity on that route," he says. Currently, there is a delay of around 400 milliseconds for European packets. Siva Kumar, senior manager, telecom, at NIIT SmartServe, fervently hopes the cables will be up and running soon. "Almost 50% of our telemarketing transactions on Friday were either blank or broken. This can't be good for business," he says. Larger BPOs claim the breakdown will not lead to an interruption in business. "Our services are as smooth as ever," says Nittan Bhalla, associate vice-president, Wipro BPO, explaining that the company also has access to an alternative route for internet and voice traffic.