The Wall Street Journal
by OWEN FLETCHER And JURO OSAWA
March 15, 2011
BEIJING-Asia's major telecom operators scrambled Monday to eliminate the impact on their operations from damage to several submarine cables following the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Many operators were reporting some disruptions in Internet access, though the partial restoration of service was accomplished by rerouting 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.
Most international Internet-data and voice phone calls are transmitted as pulses of light via the hundreds of undersea fiber-optic cables. The 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 cables converge.
While the extent of the damage to undersea cables is unclear and financial losses unknown, operators said they are undergoing an inspection and looking to expedite restoration.
Pacnet aims to repair two damaged segments of its East Asia Crossing network connecting Japan to other parts of Asia, like Taiwan and Hong Kong, within five to seven days, Mr. Barney said. He played down concerns about any financial impact on Pacnet or regional telecom operators from the damaged cables.
"It's in our business plan that our cables will break, typically you get cuts in cables anywhere from five to 10 times a year," even though the damage on land after Japan's earthquake has drawn extra attention, Mr. Barney said.
Japanese telecom operator KDDI Corp. said on Monday that 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 on Monday that 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 that 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 to maintain uninterrupted service.
PCCW Ltd., the dominant broadband provider in Hong Kong, said Internet traffic to some international destinations, especially the U.S., is experiencing reduced speeds owing to several damaged cables that land in Japan. PCCW, which also provides broadband Internet in Hong Kong, but it didn't release details. The affected cables will be repaired in "the coming weeks," the company said in a statement.
An official from Taiwan operator Chunghwa Telecom Co. 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. AT&T didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.
China Telecom Corp., China's largest fixed-line operator by subscribers, was making emergency repairs on Friday to undersea cables damaged by the earthquake, the state-run 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. A China Telecom spokeswoman wasn't immediately available to comment on Monday on the status of the repairs.
China Mobile Ltd., the world's largest mobile carrier by accounts, said most of the company's services are operating normally despite a surge in calls to Japan, Xinhua reported.
Telecom operator China Unicom Ltd. said most of its circuits had been repaired but cited connection problems with the network of Japan's NTT Communications, Xinhua reported.
Several companies said they avoided significant service disruptions by rerouting data traffic, including South Korean telecom operator KT Corp., 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.; and Globe Telecom Inc. of the Philippines.
Also in the Philippines, Bayan Telecommunications Inc. said the quake disrupted some of its digital-subscriber-line services. "Forty percent of our total capacity was affected.but we expect all to normalize within the day," said Bayan vice president for corporate brand and communications John Rojo.
Some operators were unaffected. A spokeswoman for Australian operator Telstra Corp. said none of the company's undersea cable infrastructure was damaged.
More than 5,000 people have been confirmed dead or missing because of the quake and ensuing tsunami, according to Kyodo News. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called the earthquake and its aftermath the biggest crisis in Japan's post-war history.
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