Lessons learnt as cable guys absorb the blows

Robert Clark
31 Aug 2009


The 2006 Boxing Day earthquake that took out Asia’s internet resulted in a good deal of industry soul-searching.

The powerful quake off Taiwan’s southern coast sliced through eight cables in 16 places. Trans-Pacific capacity was completely cut for two days and full restoration took nearly a week.


It meant a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of people, and some sheepish confessions afterward.


In industry forums and interviews, carrier execs admitted that while they’d built plenty of network redundancy, it was all in the same place.


A lot of it is still there on Taiwan’s coastal seabed, just waiting to be hit.


Sure enough, it did: this time a double-whammy from Typhoon Morakot – the most violent ever to hit Taiwan - and yet another quake.


The physical damage was comparable to 2006, with virtually every cable in the region cut in multiple places. Only this time the traffic load was three times as big. 


The sector staggered under the blows but did not go down. At the worst, thanks to breaks in the northeast Asian loop cables, North American websites became very slow to load. 


But after a day or two that was pretty much it.


The industry had learnt its lessons.


First, it built more redundancy through mainland China and to a lesser extent Russia and Singapore.


Second, tighter integration of existing cables, such as between Reach’s RNAL and APCN2 and Pacnet’s EAC and C2C.


Third, the opening of new capacity, such as Tata Communications’ Intra-Asia cable, which avoided the Taiwan hotspot.


Fourth, closer working relations between operators, and greater preparedness


Additionally, unlike the 2006 quake, operators were quick to issue status updates to keep customers and the media informed.


There has to be an exception, though, and in this case it’s Reliance Globalcom, which has been mute on the condition of its stricken FNAL cable. After two weeks, its statement is still “being signed off,” a spokesman said. 




Robert Clark

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