The earthquake of this week damaged the telecom and internet infrastructure, impacting many Asian countries. Banking services were severely hampered Wednesday but services had resumed Thursday after networks were reconfigured to detour around the broken cables. In June 2005 Pakistan’s only undersea fiber-optic cable link with the outside world at that time developed a serious fault, virtually crippling data feeds, including the Internet, for 11 days. See my previous post on Pakistan’s new undersea project.

This earthquake underscored the vulnerabilities of a system where huge amounts of data speed through the region in cables laid deep beneath the sea, noted Red Herring magazine.

The WALL STREET JOURNAL (12/29) reports that the slow but steady return of telecom services across Asia, after Tuesday’s earthquake damaged a critical nexus of cables off Taiwan, suggests that ‘workaround’ tactics and the quake’s holiday timing may limit its impact on business. Some telecom companies were working to reroute their service by other channels, including through Australia, the Indian Ocean or by satellite. Several ships were on their way Thursday to repair regional telecom cables broken by an earthquake off southern Taiwan, but officials warned that it could take several more days before Internet access across much of Asia returned to normal. One of the two cables that were broken is owned by a consortium that includes Singapore Telecom, France Telecom and Pakistan Telecommunication. The other is partly owned by China Unicom, StarHub and Telekom Malaysia.

An article in today’s BUSINESSWORLD (Philippines) reports that industry observers said that the chaos in Asia’s Internet service sparked by an undersea earthquake shows that the region’s cable network is too fragile and overly reliant on connections to the U.S. Undersea fiber-optic cables account for more than 95 percent of international telecommunications thanks to their strength, capacity and connection quality, according to South Korean provider KT Submarine Corp. These cables have been around for over 125 years. According to a report by policy think tank Rand Corporation the cables, which for the most part lie unprotected on the ocean floor can be dmanaged by ship anchors, fish nets that scrape the sea bottom and even in one case, sharks that gnawed on a line apparently due to its electromagnetic pulse.

One alternative would be satellites, which are costlier and do not provide as much capacity or quality of transmission as fiber-optic cables, analysts said. See my post to read more about use of satellite commuication for disaster management.

The Red Herring article notes that South Korea has 10 main undersea cables connecting it to the world and seven of them were damaged by the quake. India was highly vulnerable from damage to undersea cable links as well because it receives 80 percent to 90 percent of its bandwidth from the undersea network, industry officials said.

This incident has forced the global telecommunication industry to seriously consider resilience and business continuity. The world of today depends too much on communication technology to allow this to happen again. I expect to see many improvements in the coming months and years.

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