Telecom in Asia Slowly Recovering After Quakes
HONG KONG, Dec. 28, 2006 -- Asia's telecommunications system is slowly recovering after Tuesday's powerful earthquakes and aftershocks snapped undersea fiber optic cables and created one of the biggest telecommunications outages the region has seen for years.
While much of the phone service has been restored, Internet service has reportedly been slow and spotty throughout much of the affected region.
The US Geological Survey said two powerful quakes off Taiwan, with magnitudes of 6.9 and 7.1, took place within eight minutes of each other on Tuesday night, killing two people and wounding 40.
According to the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA), which regulates the telecommunications industry in Hong Kong, the earthquakes south-southeast of Gaoxiong, Taiwan, resulted in nearly all the submarine cables passing over the earthquake region and carrying traffic between Japan, Korea, the US, Canada, Europe and southeast Asia being damaged and broken.
According to the reports submitted to OFTA by telecommunications operators, six out of the seven main submarine cable systems in the Luzon Strait were broken down one by one at different times after the quakes and aftershocks. The cables account for about 90 percent of the total capacity and mainly affect connections to Japan, Taiwan, Korea, the US and Canada.
"Due to the damage of most of the submarine cables, all the external telecommunications services, including IDD (international direct dialing) calls, roaming calls and Internet access to overseas were serious affected starting from the morning of Dec. 27 when business resumed. It did not affect any local telecommunications services," OFTA said in a statement.
Indonesia information and communications minister Sofyan Djalil said at a press conference that the government would ease its restrictions on the use of foreign satellite links after serious disruption to the nation's Internet service.
"A lot of fiber-optic cables are still broken. This affects the entire area including Indonesia. The effects are mainly seen in the banking sector, by users of international ATMs and the Internet," he said.
Taiwan's top service provider, Chunghwa Telecom, said it has been rerouting traffic to unaffected cables and satellites, leasing private cables and getting routing assistance from foreign carriers to restore service to its customers. As of Thursday afternoon, Dec. 28, the company estimated phone service was restored 76 percent to the US, 57 percent to mainland China, 64 percent to Canada, 73 percent to Japan, 45 percent to Hong Kong, 57 percent to Singapore, 50 percent to Europe and 30 percent to southeastern Asia.
OFTA said today that while phone services, including IDD calls and roaming calls to most of the affected regions except for Taiwan had nearly returned to normal, Internet access to overseas Web sites was still congested.
Chunghwa said four cable ships have been dispatched to the areas where the cables were severed, but repair work is not expected to begin until Jan. 1. The work is expected to take three weeks, the company said.
"In general, it requires about five to seven days to repair the cables. However, due to the earthquake, the seabed may have been damaged and there may be further earthquakes that will affect the maintenance work," OFTA said. The agency said two submarine cable maintenance ships from Singapore and the Philippines were on the way to the scene, with three more ships scheduled to leave today.
City Telecom (HK) Ltd. and its subsidiary, Hong Kong Broadband Network Ltd., said in a statement that, as of 11:42 a.m., its overseas communications and international dialing services had "basically resumed" and its customers were able to use the Internet as normal to access overseas Web sites.
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