Operators scramble to repair undersea cables

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 12:00am

International submarine cable operators are scrambling to repair key infrastructure damaged by last week's earthquake in Japan, while helping telecoms network carriers re-route traffic to avert major disruption to services.

'Roughly half of the trans-Pacific cable capacity is crippled right now,' Bill Barney (pictured), chief executive of Hong Kong-based submarine cable operator Pacnet, said yesterday. 'Some of the other cable systems are taking the load of the cables that are down.'

Hong Kong internet users experienced painfully slow network connections over the weekend and difficulties in connecting to websites in the city and in Japan.

Pacnet, which runs Asia's largest privately owned undersea cable network, and Pacific Crossing, a unit of NTT Communications, have both made public the damage caused by the earthquake in their respective cable systems. Other cable system operators have largely kept quiet.

'Basically, five cable systems cross the Pacific,' Barney said. 'I can't comment on the others, but our system, Unity, is operational. We do know that the other systems are either completely down or a portion of their systems are down.'

Launched in March last year, Unity is a trans-Pacific submarine cable system operated by a consortium led by Google, Pacnet, Singapore Telecommunications, KDDI, Bharti Airtel and Malaysian firm Global Transit.

Barney, however, said two segments of Pacnet's EAC-C2C cable system had showed 'severe degradation' on its routes to Asian markets.

That resulted in disruptions in service to Hong Kong, Japan and Philippine carriers on Friday, according to a blog published over the weekend by James Cowie, the chief technology officer at market intelligence firm Renesys.

The other trans-Pacific cable operations include the Tata TGN-Pacific cable of Tata Telecommunications, PC1 of Pacific Crossing, the Japan-US and China-US cables of Hong Kong-based Reach Global Services, and the Trans-Pacific Express operated by a consortium of six carriers led by China Telecom, China Unicom, China Mobile and Verizon Communications.

On its website, Pacific Crossing announced that two sections of its PC1 system 'are currently out of service' due to the Japan earthquake. 'Information on restoration activities and timing is unavailable,' it said.

Repair work by undersea communications services provider TE SubCom on Pacnet's EAC-C2C is expected to start shortly, after its repair ship was deployed from Taiwan yesterday. It is expected to take seven to 10 days to fix.

'We believe our system will be the first to get fixed because many of the Japan-based cable repair ships are still stuck in port,' Barney said.

Cowie, however, pointed out that 'lingering damage to fibres, repeaters and landing station equipment may continue to generate new problems over the coming days and weeks, even in cable systems that survived the initial event [earthquake]'.

PCCW said yesterday its internet service 'has been restored to normal service performance levels', but added it would 'take appropriate contingency measures should the situation in Japan deteriorate and impact our service'.

Hutchison Telecommunications said its operations had been unaffected, adding that it was assisting several local and overseas carriers in service and system restoration.