Looks like worst-case scenario for Tonga internet cable

After conflicting reports, it now seems almost certain that the weekend’s underwater eruption caused a rupture in the cable that connects Tonga to the outside world – and will likely take around two weeks or more to repair.

In the meantime, the volcano’s dust cloud means that even telephone and satellite internet connections are intermittent.

The best-case scenario – and one that seemed possible at first – was that the fiber was intact and the internet outage was caused by power outages that disabled the electronics controlling the cable.

Tests on Sunday indicated there could in fact be a rupture, but it was unclear whether this was on land, which would take days to repair, or at sea – the worst case scenario – which could mean weeks before it can be reconnected.

This morning, Southern Cross Cable executive Craige Sloots told the Herald that “Fintel and TCL [Tonga Cable Ltd] carried out tests yesterday afternoon which appear to confirm a probable cable break approximately 37km off Tonga.”

TCL is arranging the repair, but industry veteran Slots said the process could take at least one to two weeks. The repair would likely be carried out by a cable and vessel called CS Reliance, which is currently off Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, some 4,000 km away.

The CS Reliance is operated by US company TE SubCom, which has a maintenance contract covering 19 cable systems across the South Pacific.

Tonga Cable manager Samiuela Fonua – who is currently in Auckland on family business – told the Herald he received confirmation last night that TE Subcom would help repair the broken international cable, as well as cables damaged domestics.

But the timing was in the air.

“The last cable cut [an alleged act of sabotage in 2019] took almost two weeks to fix,” Fonua said.

This time I’m not sure yet as we need to consider the site conditions, whether the repair vessel will enter Tongatapu waters not too far from the eruption site – and whether the volcano is still active .”

In the meantime, Tonga has limited access to telephone and internet via satellite, but Fonua said the dust cloud was affecting this alternative service.

Kiwi telcos Spark, Vodafone NZ and 2degrees are all offering free mobile and landline calls to Tonga this week.

However, the telephone service is still severely disrupted.

“Unfortunately, communication in Tonga is difficult at this time due to damage from weather events, so immediate contact may not be possible,” a Spark spokeswoman said.

Vodafone is expected to announce relief through the Vodafone Foundation this afternoon.

The Tonga Cable, which is 837 km long, is 80% owned by the Government of Tonga and pan-Pacific telecommunications company Digicel is a minority stakeholder.

The Tonga Cable crosses a cable to Fiji operated by the Fijian telecommunications company Fintel, as well as the transpacific cable Southern Cross, of which Spark is a major shareholder.

Slots said the Southern Cross Cable was unharmed and his company had no financial or other relationship with TCL, but his company was monitoring the situation as best it could amid “rare communication” with Tonga. .

Until recently New Zealand had only one major internet connection to the outside world – the two legs of the Southern Cross Cable.

This has changed over the past five years with the launch of the Tasman Global Access cable between Auckland and Sydney (a joint venture between Vodafone, Spark and Telstra) and the launch of the Hawaiki cable linking Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Hawaiki was backed by wealthy investors including Sir Eion Edgar and Malcolm Dick. Last year it was sold to Singapore’s BW Group.

– by Chris Keall, NZ Herald