Thousands of businesses and consumers were unable to access the Internet and their e-mail last week morning after a "critical outage" suffered by internet service provider MWeb.

The network failure affected the whole northern part of SA as MWeb's data centre in Johannesburg was out of action for 90 minutes during the peak morning period. Users in other parts of the country were not affected as its Cape Town data centre operated normally.

Chief technical officer Mervyn Goliath placed the blame on Telkom, citing a failure of Telkom equipment in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Telkom was quick to restore the network, Goliath said, keeping the disruption relatively short.

"The entire Johannesburg data centre went off the air," he said. "The Telkom circuit is MWeb's pipeline into the internet so all our services, such as e-mail and website hosting, were affected." MWeb runs the websites for many corporate customers, and those sites went down.

The collapse was bad news for many companies but it could be good news for Neotel, the new telecommunications operator. Last week MWeb was hailed by Neotel as one of its first customers -- but the services it is buying did not include Internet access. That could change after the Telkom collapse. "The only way we can overcome this is to balance our traffic and take some circuits with Neotel," Goliath said. "We are investigating using more Neotel services. Failures like this don't occur regularly because Telkom is fairly stable, but when you have an outage you wish you had an alternative."

Business Day