Internet users face slowdown

Internet users face slowdown as Etisalat switches to a fibre-optic system, limiting access to popular sites such as Facebook.

ABU DHABI // Internet subscribers on Etisalat's network are complaining of sluggish service and delayed or no access to favourite websites, a situation that is believed to be due to the telecom provider's upgrade of its fibre-optic network.

Etisalat customers from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah have been experiencing persistent disruptions to their internet services, with problems accessing Facebook, Google and Yahoo, among other sites. They are also having difficulty transferring files and playing games online. "I constantly need to access my mail at work, do research on our clients and find contact details. It's been very frustrating doing all that and sometimes [it] becomes impossible," said Hira Mansoor, 22, a marketing co-ordinator from Pakistan who works in Abu Dhabi.

Etisalat customers in Sharjah have also been affected by connectivity issues. "We are addicted to the net and use it to find valuable information," said Syed Rehman, a 40-year-old Pakistani supervisor who works at a travel agency in the emirate. "The websites we need to use take a long time to open up, and speed has also been a major issue." Antonio Carvalho, a partner at the telecoms consultancy Delta Partners in Dubai, said that given the myriad websites that are affected and that no one has complained of a complete disconnection from service, the likely issue is one of connectivity. Typically, when a network is upgraded from a cable-based infrastructure to a fibre-optic network, as Etisalat's has been, there will be connectivity issues. "While the infrastructure network is being upgraded, it's fair to assume some deterioration in the customer experience," Mr Carvalho said. "But these are supposed to be temporary problems that should be sorted out in a relatively short period of time."

Etisalat executives did not return phone calls seeking comment. Essa al Haddad, the group chief marketing officer for Etisalat, told reporters during the company's launch of its eLife service last month that network disruptions might occur as it finalised the installation of its fibre-optic connections. "There is a challenge in running two separate networks at the same time," Mr al Haddad said. "This challenge will be with us for the next few months."

The last major disruption to internet services occurred in 2008 between January 23 and February 4 when five high-speed underwater communications cables were severed by ships' anchors, causing widespread outages throughout the Middle East. Nahid Hassan, a spokeswoman for du, a rival telecoms operator, said that the company had not received any complaints from customers about internet connections.

Representatives from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority also did not return messages seeking comment.