IT bedlam highlights need for backup in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 December, 2006, 12:00am

The earthquake damage to submarine cables off Taiwan highlighted the vulnerability of Hong Kong's broadband networks, leaving providers with few alternatives to get their services up and running again, information technology experts said.

It also exposed the unwillingness of cost-conscious providers to consider alternatives to cable such as satellite transmission, they said.

Internet Society chairman Charles Mok Nai-kwong noted that the city was not the only place at risk of disruption caused by a natural disaster.

'The role of local internet service providers is very limited as they are only clients of the cable service. Some of them might be working on re-routing the congested traffic, but the improvement will be insignificant,' he said.

Mr Mok said resumption of service depended entirely on how quickly the cable operators were able to make repairs.

Hong Kong Internet Exchange head David Choi Chan-hung agreed, but said he believed providers would seek alternative routes in the next few days. 'The submarine cables linking Taiwan and Hong Kong are the most common external telecommunication pathways, as the cost [of use] is the lowest among all options,' he said. 'But they may turn to other routes such as overland cables via the mainland or submarine cables via Singapore.'

But Mr Choi said the providers were not obliged to come up with remedies as the disruption was not caused by human error.

'I think we will have to wait for a few days until the repair ships can locate the defective parts and restore the cables,' Mr Choi said.

A telecommunications expert said the disruption was a wake-up call to telecommunications providers who were becoming over-reliant on submarine cables.

'With the earthquake, we suddenly realise that it may be dangerous to depend on a single telecommunication means,' said Xu Yan, associate professor in information systems at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

'People have forgotten alternative communication means by satellite. There is the cost factor. But telecoms companies and regulators ... have a responsibility to maintain stability of the services provided.'