Overload knocks out phone lines

HONG Kong's telecommunications system was unable to cope with the approach of Typhoon Tasha yesterday and the increased demand for lines silenced pagers and cellular phones across the territory.

At about 2 pm - Signal No 8 was hoisted at 4 pm - the overloading resulted in it being nearly impossible to get through to paging stations and most of Hong Kong's cellular phones.

The overloading also played havoc with local phone lines in offices and homes throughout the territory.

In one case, the Fire Services Department control room was unable to get through to the department's deputy director on his mobile phone.

And even the chairman of the Telecommunication Users Group, Tim Cureton, was unable to dial out of his Hong Kong Island office.

A spokesman for Hong-kong Telecom said overloading was common in events such as typhoons as they caused a huge rush to use phones and pagers.

''The system didn't break down but suffered from overloading between 2 pm and 4 pm. Overloading just before typhoon warnings are common as people everywhere are trying to make calls in a hurry.

''Despite Hong Kong having a tremendous capacity it is impossible to deal with the huge amounts of calls being made in events like typhoons,'' the spokesman said.

He confirmed that paging stations were totally overloaded and virtually impossible to get through. It was also difficult to obtain a connection to the cellular phone system.

''You can imagine that with everyone calling a limited number of paging stations that naturally they would become very overloaded.

''Cellular phones were also very hard to connect to and local telephone lines were also overloaded, causing people to have to dial several times before being connected.

''When the system begins to experience severe pressure we have a call restriction mechanism which automatically starts to operate to ensure the overloading doesn't cause a complete breakdown.

''The call restriction mechanism works by taking and connecting only the number of calls the system can handle. All other calls are restricted and have to be dialed later for connection,'' the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Hutchison Communication confirmed the overloading of the Hongkong Telecom system resulted in the breakdown of the cellular phone network.

''All cellular phones from every operating company have to go through the Hongkong Telecom system to be linked up with standard phone lines. Therefore, when overloading occurs it affects everyone.

''By about 4 pm the overloading had subsided but the network was not 100 per cent operational,'' the spokesman said.

Telecommunications Authority Director Alexander Arena said last night his office had not dealt with any reports of problems occurring because of the overloading.

''We usually deal with problems after the event, so it is premature to comment at the moment,'' Mr Arena said.