Tsunami, earthquake damage undersea fiber-optic cables in Japan

Japan--Following the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan on Friday, major telecom operators scrambled to minimize the impact of damage to several fiber-optic submarine cables.

Japan--Following the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan on Friday, major telecom operators scrambled to minimize the impact of damage to several fiber-optic submarine cables. Many Asian telecom operators and users were reporting some disruptions in Internet access Monday, though the partial restoration of service was accomplished by rerouting optical communications traffic over undamaged cables and via satellites.

About half of the existing cables running across the Pacific are damaged and "a lot of people are feeling a little bit of slowing down of Internet traffic going to the United States," said Bill Barney, chief executive of Hong Kong-based cable-network operator Pacnet. He declined to name the damaged cables operated by other companies, but said Pacnet's cable system connecting Japan to the U.S. isn't damaged so far. Some operators were unaffected. A spokeswoman for Australian operator Telstra Corp. (TLS.AU) said none of the company's undersea cable infrastructure was damaged.

The submarine fiber-optic cables, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, are typically owned by consortia of telecom companies, who share costs and capacity. While the clusters of glass fibers are enclosed in protective material, they remain vulnerable to undersea earthquakes, fishing trawlers, and ship anchors. There are also many choke points around the globe where a number of key cables converge.

While the extent of the damage to undersea cables is still unclear and financial losses unknown, operators said they are undergoing an inspection and looking to expedite restoration. Japanese telecom operator KDDI Corp. (9433.TO) said Monday one of its undersea cables between Japan and the U.S. has been damaged by the earthquake and is unable to transmit any signals, but a spokesman said the company didn't know if the cable was cut or having connection problems. The damaged part is far offshore, and it may take a while for KDDI to identify and address the problem but services are recovering after the quake, as the company can bypass the damaged part and use other cables instead, the spokesman said.

Pacific Crossing, a unit of Japan's NTT Communications Corp. that operates a cable network between Japan and the U.S., said Monday the Pacific Crossing PC-1 W and PC-1 N parts of its network remained out of service due to the earthquake. NTT Communications said some of its services for enterprises were partially unavailable in Japan's Tohoku region, but that for submarine cables between Japan, other parts of Asia and the U.S. the company is using backup cable routes.

An official from Taiwan operator Chunghwa Telecom Co. (2412.TW) said Friday the earthquake caused damage near Kita on the eastern coast of Japan to an undersea cable that belongs to the Asia Pacific Cable Network 2, which is owned by a consortium of 14 telecom operators led by AT&T Inc. (T). AT&T didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

China Telecom Corp. (CHA), China's largest fixed-line operator by subscribers, was making emergency repairs on Friday to undersea cables damaged by the earthquake, Xinhua News Agency reported. The company said submarine fiber-optic cables connecting Japan and North America and a Pacific Crossing 1 cable near the city of Kitaibaraki, in Japan's northern Ibaraki Prefecture, were malfunctioning due to the earthquake. A China Telecom spokeswoman wasn't immediately available to comment on Monday on the status of the repairs.

Xinhua on Monday cited China Telecom as saying the company had restored 65 gigabytes of outbound capacity, after the quake had disrupted 105 gigabytes of outbound Internet capacity and another 7 gigabytes of privately leased cable capacity.

Several companies said they avoided significant service disruptions by rerouting data traffic, including South Korean telecom operator KT Corp. (KT), which said a cable that is part of the Japan-U.S. Cable Network was cut; SK Telink Corp., an affiliate of South Korean operator SK Telecom Co. (SKM); and Globe Telecom Inc. (GLO.PH) of the Philippines.

SOURCE:Wall Street Journal online; http://online.wsj.com/article_email/BT-CO-20110314-705433-kIyVDAtMUMxTzEtNTIxMDUxWj.html

Posted by:Gail Overton

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