The anti-social network: Avoiding online darkness

Fibre-optic cables Coiled and ready: Cable like this keeps businesses and consumers alike online

A 75-year-old Georgian woman who says she has never even heard of the internet is facing a possible prison sentence for single-handedly cutting off the web to an entire country.

Hayastan Shakarian Hayastan Shakarian is accused of hacking through the cable that cut off Armenia's internet

Georgian police arrested Hayastan Shakarian after she allegedly hacked through a fibre optic cable that runs through Georgia to Armenia, while digging for copper.

With one stroke, the pensioner plunged 90% of internet users in Armenia into online darkness for nearly 12 hours.

The episode is a timely reminder that all it takes in our hi-tech world to shut down thousands of companies for a day is a determined old lady with a spade.

Huge reliance

Research carried out in October 2010 by Avanti Communications offered a snapshot of just how fundamental the internet had become to businesses.

Technology of Business

The survey of companies worldwide suggested only 1% could function adequately without the internet.

More than a quarter (27%) of those surveyed said they could not function at all if the internet went down, and one in five said a week without being online would be the death of their company.

"In the past, network downtime might have prevented a batch of communication at the end of the day," says Chris Kimm, vice-president network field operations EMEA at Verizon Business.

"Today it could mean no phones, no e-mail, no customer database, no ordering systems, no supply chain visibility and effectively, no capability to conduct business."

Ian Finlay, group chief information officer at Claranet, says: "The key message is if you are going to avoid the worst you have plan for it and for each business the worst will be different."

Broken cable duct Fibre optic cables that lie on top of utility pipes are at risk whenever work is done near them
Going underground

Oliver Pettit, from professional services company Deloitte, says key questions to network providers should include whether they can guarantee close to 100% network uptime.

"Moreover, companies should query how resilient the provider's network is to disruptions and what technology it has in place to support its services," he says.

Some solutions on offer are quite straightforward. One network provider, Geo, runs all its cable through the Victorian sewers in London.

This solves one of the major problems that makes telecoms lines in many countries susceptible to being cut - they are laid on top of utility pipes.

Not only does this mean they are mere centimetres under the ground - but whenever repairs are done to utilities, the workmen have to get past the fibre optic wires first, meaning inevitable incidences of cuts.

Clever solutions

Other technologies on offer to providers - which will in turn help their customer stay connected - are mind-boggling.

For example, a company called OptaSense offers to stop potential breaks in service by listening to any threats as they approach.

Cables in London's sewers Network provider Geo runs all its cables through London's Victorian sewer system

Using advanced sonar techniques, the company converts the fibre optic cable carrying the precious internet signal into an acoustic microphone.

It can then tell the network provider exactly what is getting too close for comfort - be it a vehicle, human footsteps, digging or drilling.

Satellite back-up

Avanti Communications is one of a handful of companies that offer 24-hour instantaneous back-up via a dedicated satellite.

It launched its first satellite in November, which covers Europe, and plans to launch one covering the Middle East and India next year.

Chief executive David Williams says satellite technology will play an ever more important role in communications networks.

David Williams David Williams of Avanti thinks satellite technology is the future of networks

"Fibre optic cable costs around £150 per metre to dig, so building cable networks is incredibly expensive," he says.

"But one satellite can cover the whole of Europe - so wherever you are, it can get to you."

Financial protection

Insurance companies have been slow to jump on this bandwagon, but products are now becoming available to cover losses caused by network failure.

Alan Thomas, of insurer Hiscox, says each policy is bespoke.

"Insurers love statistics to determine risk, but we just don't have them because it's a young product," he says.

He adds that businesses have been slow to take up these policies but predicts a big increase in interest as soon as an outage leads a high-profile loss for a big company.

Preparing for network failure

  • In most cases, configuring a server to reboot automatically is the fastest way to get it back online
  • Set up instant notifications so if there is something wrong, the right people receive an e-mail, SMS, or instant message
  • Prepare and test disaster recovery plans
  • Consider "load balancing" if your website is transaction-based - this will automatically move traffic to another machine in case of failure

Source: Dirk Paessler, CEO, Paessler AG

Future proofing

The future of networks is causing sleepless nights for IT professionals and policy makers alike.

The appetite for data across the globe is growing at an extraordinary rate and is putting an immense strain on the system.

"A lot of the basis of the internet today was invented 30 years ago," says Tim Fritzley, InTune Networks chief executive.

"In the 90's when people were envisioning the first part of the web even the most optimistic soothsayer never saw anything like social networking."

"They didn't see 10% of what is going on now," he says.

InTune is working with the Irish government on its Exemplar Network.

This aims to vastly increase network capability worldwide by enabling a single strand of fibre to carry not just one signal from one operator, but data from up to 80 telecoms and TV companies at once.

Developers are working furiously to make sure our increasing hunger for data does not mean a collapse of the system.

But whether this will protect users from marauding pensioners looking for copper remains to be seen.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    UBER ROW 12:47:
    Margaret Hodge MP

    Back to Margaret Hodge's letter to Boris Johnson. She says Uber's tax arrangements mean it is able to avoid paying corporation tax in the UK and instead pays tax in the Netherlands. Its tax status, she adds, means that Uber is able to unfairly undercut London's cabbies. And Mrs Hodge says Transport for London is not applying the rules which require private hire cars to obtain a licence. A few people are going to get called to give evidence to the Public Accounts Committee later this year we suspect.

     
  2.  
    BEST LOVED BOSS 12:35:
    Mark Sebba

    Do you love your boss? Do you? Do you really? You don't. You don't love him as much as the staff of Net-a-Porter. They love boss Mark Sebba so much they released this fabulously elaborate leaving video, which makes a piece in London's Evening Standard newspaper. They really pushed the boat way out in offering their good wishes for his retirement. To some, a joyful watch, To others, a gag-fest. Love it or hate it, it's a massively skilful effort.

     
  3.  
    UBER ROW 12:20:
    Taxis blockade Whitehall

    Firebrand Labour MP Margaret Hodge, having taken on the bosses of companies including Google, Starbuck and Amazon over how much tax they pay, has turned her fire on London Mayor Boris Johnson and private tax firm Uber. The chair of the Public Accounts Committee has written to the mayor to express her concern over Uber's tax arrangements and their impact on "the public purse" and the "livelihoods of London cabbies".

     
  4.  
    RBS PROFITS 12:04:
    RBS one month share price graph

    RBS shares have dropped in the wake of the full interim report from the bank, which includes the warning all the investigations being faced by the bank may "materially" impact results. Note, though, that last week when the good stuff was revealed, the shares sprang up the chart.

     
  5.  
    SHARP PROFITS 11:50:
    A model of Japan's electronics maker Sharp shows off new 4k liquid crystal display (LCD) TV

    Japanese electronics firm Sharp has reported a 55% year-on-year increase in its operating profit for the April to June quarter, beating forecasts. The results are due in part to healthy sales of the firm's liquid-crystal display (LCD) televisions in some countries including China.

     
  6.  
    MARKET UPDATE 11:35:

    European stock markets are seeing a bit of a sell off ahead of this afternoon's US jobs report.

    • The FTSE is 1.3% lower at 6641.30
    • The Dax is down 2% at 9214.15
    • The Cac-40 has lost 1.4% to 4187.08
     
  7.  
    RBS PROFITS 11:18:

    The list of investigations RBS is facing runs like this: Mortgage backed securities, Libor, Foreign exchange manipulation, Credit default swaps, shareholder litigation, card protection plans, interest rate hedging, interest rate hedging and Madoff. It is not an exhaustive list.

     
  8.  
    RBS PROFITS 11:03:

    We recall RBS was bounced into an early release of interims last week because, when the numbers arrived, they proved surprisingly better than the market was expecting. Today's reiteration of the results wasn't therefore expected to have anything surprising in. But there's this: "It is not possible to estimate reliably what effect the outcome of these investigations [forex, Libor etc], any regulatory findings and any related developments may have on the Group, including the timing and amount of fines or settlements, which may be material." So, that's all clear then.

     
  9.  
    WILLIAM HILL 10:47:

    The betting giant gives detail on that record-breaking World Cup. Across the tournament as a whole, wagering was £208m, up 80% on the 2010 outcome. Gross win margin was down (18.4% versus 27.9%).

     
  10.  
    RUSSIA SANCTIONS 10:27:
    Veg stall in Poland

    More on the impact sanctions between the European Union and Russia will have. Poland's deputy prime minister says these will knock 0.6 percentage points off his country's economic growth this year. This week Russia announced a ban on most fruit and vegetable imports from Poland. "Currently, our exports to Russia have fallen by 7% and by 26-29% to Ukraine," he says.

     
  11.  
    IAG PROFITS 10:08:

    ONe more from IAG has also ordered eight Airbus A350-900s and eight Airbus A330-200s for its Iberia Airline's long haul fleet. The aircraft will be delivered between 2015 and 2020, it said.

     
  12.  
    MANUFACTURING OUTPUT Via Email

    David Richardson, head of manufacturing at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, notes: "The overall performance of the manufacturing sector so far this year has been positive. The country's makers have offered a robust source of job creation and export activity, in the face of a strengthening sterling."

     
  13.  
    MANUFACTURING OUTPUT 09:45:
    Chart showing manufacturing output over the last year

    The UK manufacturing industry continued to grow in July but did so at its slowest pace for a year, says analysts Markit. Its purchasing manager's index fell to 55.4 from 57.2 in June. That's still well above the 50-mark, which separates growth from contraction but suggests the industry could be slowing in preparation for higher interest rates.

     
  14.  
    IAG PROFITS 09:25:
    Iberia aeroplanes are parked at Madrid's Barajas T4 airport terminal

    Splitting out the figures British Airways made an operating profit of 327m euros (£260m) compared with an operating loss of 95m euros for Iberia Airlines for the first six months of this year.

     
  15.  
    MARKET UPDATE 09:07:

    European markets are lower ahead of a US jobs report due out later today, which is expected to show 230,000 jobs were added to the economy last month, a decline from the previous month's 280,000. The biggest riser on the FTSE 100 is British Airways and Iberia Airlines owner IAG - up 2.3% to 338.40p - after it swung back into profit in the first half of this year.

    • The FTSE 100 is lower by 0.72% to 6681.69
    • The Dax is down 0.81% to 9330.89
    • The Cac-40 has fallen 0.72% to 4215.46
     
  16.  
    RBS PROFITS 08:52:
    A woman walking past the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland

    Royal Bank of Scotland has released its profits for the first half of 2014 in what can only be described as a quirk of officialdom. The bank was originally planning to publish its results today, but having discovered how good they were got really excited and released them a week early. So it appears there is nothing new to see here.

     
  17.  
    WILLIAM HILL 08:34:
    Betting slip

    William Hill - the high street and online betting chain says "record-breaking World Cup wagering drives second quarter operating profit growth" - but pre-tax profit was down 15% at £222m.

     
  18.  
    IAG SHARES 08:21:

    IAG shares are off to a strong start on the back of the results announcement. They're up 4%.

     
  19.  
    RENTOKIL INITIAL RESULTS 08:19:
    Horrible moth

    Rentokil is a whopping player in the pest control business. "Revenue growth was particularly strong in our Pest Control category," it reveals, "reflecting good growth... supported by improved organic performance and a number of pest control acquisitions." Growth through acquisitions; not scary. Improved organic performance? Does that mean there are more moths, rats, wasps and such for it to kill?

     
  20.  
    HEADLINES
  21.  
    IAG PROFITS 08:05:
    A British Airways Airbus A380

    Spanish cousin Iberia is becoming less of a drag on IAG's overall performance it seems. IAG says Iberia's restructuring continues to have "a positive impact". Last week Iberia agreed a deal with unions "on collective redundancies for pilots and ground staff" that could see a further 1,427 jobs axed. IAG says: "This will create new opportunities for Iberia to enhance its profitability further in the next two or three years."

     
  22.  
    RUSSIA SANCTIONS 07:51:
    Russia adidas shirt

    European companies say sanctions against Russia are already taking their toll, reports the Financial Times. Adidas shares dropped 15% after its profit warning yesterday - it's closing stores in Russia. Also seeing an impact are Volkswagen and Siemens.

     
  23.  
    DIRECT LINE RESULTS 07:41:
    Dog

    Direct Line is the largest motor insurance group in the country. It reports an 8% rise in six month profits to £225.1m. Brands include Churchill, Privilege and the Green Flag roadside recovery service.

     
  24.  
    IAG PROFITS 07:28: BBC Radio 4

    IAG boss Willie Walsh tells Today the airline group is "doing very well" and is on course to deliver its full year guidance. The conversation quickly turns to safety. British Airways and Iberia have been avoiding Ukrainian airspace since March, he says. "We don't look at the cost at all. It's simply a case that we look at whether it is safe to fly over an area or not," he adds. "We don't fly over Libya or Syria." But the airline judges that it is now safe to fly over Iraq.

     
  25.  
    IAG PROFITS

    British Airways and Iberia Airlines owner International Airlines Croup has swung into profit. It has reported pre-tax profits of 155m euros (£123m) for the last six months, compared with a loss of 177m euros a year earlier.

     
  26.  
    RENTOKIL INITIAL RESULTS 07:10:

    Office services business Rentokil Initial said its half year profits rose 38.9% to £66.8m.

     
  27.  
    US ECONOMY 06:59: Radio 5 live

    More from Terry Savage on the US economy. She says the US Federal Reserve policy of quantitative easing "has created all of this money... and all that money has not gone into, so far at least, good paying jobs or homebuilding. It's gone into the stock market and... made the rich a lot richer."

     
  28.  
    PORTUGAL BANK 06:47: BBC Radio 4
    Woman outside BES

    Bill Blain from Mint Partners tells Today Portugal's government has a tough decision to make on BES: "Does it bail it out as 'too big to fail', or does it stand back and let the bank sort itself out? Many want the debt holders to pay the cost of this."

     
  29.  
    TOUGH MUDDER 06:36:
    Man leaping

    The Today programme likes a natter with a company boss of a Friday morning. Today's is Will Dean from Tough Mudder. People pay him £100 to spend time on an obstacle course - jumping, swimming, crawling through mud and so forth. Why? "It's not a race its a challenge. It's about team work over 12 miles. Its a set of individual challenges to test you mentally and physically." Fine.

     
  30.  
    PORTUGAL BANK 06:28: BBC Radio 4

    Shares in Banco Espirito Santo lost 42% yesterday after the bank announced a loss of 3.6bn euros (£2.8bn). Bill Blain from chief strategist at Mint Partners tells Today this is "Deeply concerning for all bankers looking at Europe. It's [Europe] had 450bn of new capital to sort out the relationship between sovereign debt and the banks. What the Banco results show shows is the bank remained a piggy bank for the family".

     
  31.  
    US ECONOMY 06:15: Radio 5 live

    The US releases jobs data later today - GDP figures earlier this week showed the US economy growing strongly. Expectations are that another 230,000 jobs could have been added to the US economy in July and that the unemployment rate may - we'd stress the may here though - have fallen below 6%.

     
  32.  
    US ECONOMY 06:07: Radio 5 live

    US financial expert and businesswoman Terry Savage tells Wake Up to Money the US economic recovery is still difficult to read: "It's kind of a glass half full/half empty kind of thing. Different parts of the economy have picked up, particularly consumer spending on autos and other big items," she says. "It's not what we would call a booming economy . It's just so much better than what we have had for the last few years."

     
  33.  
    06:01: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    In a short while we'll have results from William Hill and British Airways owner IAG trading updates. And we'll have an eye on everything else that's going on. bizlive@bbc.co.uk @bbcbusiness.

     
  34.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. So what's happened overnight? Well the World Trade Organisation has failed to agree a global customs deal.... again. But manufacturing in China grew at its fastest pace in more than two years in July, according to the latest figures.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.