Cyclone Vardah: a calamity that rocked 'digital India'

If you have been facing problems in Delhi and Mumbai with your internet connection, there is a reason

Super cyclone Vardah made a landfall near Chennai on Monday, but that didn’t stop it from causing havoc in the entire country. If you’re wondering how could a cyclone bring an entire country to a standstill, then there are a few things you must know.

To begin with, how does the Internet work?


Cyclone Vardah (Photo: NASA)

It won’t be incorrect if we described the Internet as the lifeline of India. And at a time when the country is speeding towards a steady digital economy, having a speedy Internet connectivity has acquired even greater significance. But cyclone Vardah not only disrupted the mobile connectivity but also caused the ATMs to malfunction. But before we get into the details of the event, let’s first try to understand how the Internet works.

To put in simple words, the Internet is like a giant web, where every single computer is connected with every computer via a complex mesh of wires and cables. This is called networking and it happens on three levels. The city-wide network is connected with the state-wide network, which is connected with the country-wide network, which is finally connected to the global network.

How is India connected with the rest of the world?

India, Internet

India’s Internet connectivity (Photo: Quora/Kshitij Salgunan)

India is digitally connected to the world via four ‘gateways’ that are located in four cities- Mumbai, Chennai, Cochin and Tuticorin. These are the four ports where the international cables that take the sea route connect with the land-based network (via landing stations) in the country. While TATA own three landing stations- Mumbai, Chennai and Cochin, Bharti has three landing stations- two in Mumbai and one in Chennai, BSNL on the other hands own a single landing station that connects Tuticorin with Sri Lanka. India has a total of 8 gateway cables that directly connect it with south-east Asia, Middle East, Africa, western Europe and Singapore.

These gateways not only provide high-speed Internet to India but also balance the load of the digitally growing economy.

Why is Chennai important?


Google peering hub (Photo: Google grab)

Chennai is an important location not just because it’s one of the four gateways connecting India to the rest of the world but also because, National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), the non-profit body that provides neutral Internet exchange point services in India, has one of its operational centres located in Chennai, and because Google operates one of its peering hubs in India. Chennai also hosts one of Google’s traffic management systems, the centres that hosts static content like YouTube and Google Play via and provide improved performance to the users.

How did Vardah affect India’s Internet connectivity?

Airtel, Vardah

Airtel Internet Issue

Vardah rocked the undersea cables of the telecom companies including Airtel and Vodafone that connect to the global network via Chennai. Bharti Airtel sent out a nation-wide message stating that the cyclone had damaged one of its undersea network cables, which may affect the Internet speed across India. Vodafone too raised similar concerns.

But that’s not it, the cyclone also damaged ATM antennae in Chennai, that use the Internet connection and satellite links to connect with the bank to perform routine transactions. According to a report by a leading English daily, many ATMs across Tamil Nadu, despite being loaded with cash, remained non-functional as the cyclone had disrupted their satellite links.

With mobile connectivity disrupted and ATMs being non-functional, Vardah has rocked the entire country.