TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Taiwan Earthquake Shakes Confidence in Underseas Cables

Taiwan Earthquake Shakes Confidence in Underseas Cables

Jon Herskovitz & Rhee So-eui (
Thu, 28 Dec 2006 21:21:14 -0600

By Jon Herskovitz and Rhee So-eui

The earthquakes that hit Taiwan on Tuesday rocked communications in
Asia and underscored the vulnerabilities of a system where huge
amounts of data speed through the region in cables laid deep beneath
the sea.

Banks and brokerages from Seoul to Sydney were affected by the outage,
with analysts saying that even though a single glitch can trigger
global problems, there is little choice but to rely on this underwater

"Right now, there's no other network that can compete with submarine
fiber-optic cables in terms of reliability," said Jin Chang-whan, an
analyst at CJ Investment & Securities in Seoul.

The cables, which for the most part lie unprotected on the ocean
floor, can be damaged 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, said policy think tank Rand
Corporation ( in a recent report.

The report predicted troubles in Taiwan could lead to major
disruptions because it would be difficult to reroute data overland on
the island.

Experts said there should be few problems in the cable systems as long
as there are backup routes and carriers can cooperate in times of

Analysts said the disruption showed that most of the region's cable
networks run along earthquake-prone geographic zones.

"People will start to say we can't let this happen again," said Frank
Dzubeck, president of Washington D.C.-based telecoms consultancy
Communications Networks Architects.

"The issue here is parallelism. You've really got to have multiple
paths. You can't lay all the cables in the same place."

Dzubeck added that the Internet bust in 2001 had hit expensive plans
by various companies to lay undersea cables along new paths that were
less likely to be affected by earthquakes.

Earthquakes occur frequently around Taiwan and Japan, which lie on a
seismically active stretch of the Pacific basin.

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.

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.

Just last week, Verizon Communications Inc. and five Asian companies
agreed to invest $500 million to build a new cable network to directly
link China and the United States.


Submarine cables have been around for about 150 years, with the some
of the first lines being a well-insulated copper wire running under
the English Channel. One alternative used at the time to transmit data
was the carrier pigeon.

Now the cables hold a mass of tightly packed, flexible glass lines
that can handle millions of telephone calls, which means that any
damage can lead to major disruptions.

A country such as South Korea, the world's 11th largest economy, has
10 main undersea cables connecting it to the world, said KT Corp., the
country's top fixed-line and broadband service provider. Seven of them
were damaged by the quake.

India was highly vulnerable from damage to undersea cable links
because it receives 80 percent to 90 percent of its bandwidth from the
undersea network, industry officials said.

And neighboring Pakistan's sole undersea fiber-optic cable link with
the outside world developed a serious fault in June 2005, virtually
crippling data feeds, including the Internet, for 11 days.

"Internet service providers should think like bus companies," said
Mohamed Shahril Tarmizi, executive director at Malaysian technology
consulting company BinaFikir.

"Instead of using just one route to get to a destination, it's more
useful to have many routes."

(With additional reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee in Bangalore, Niluksi
Koswanage in Kuala Lumpor, Baker Li in Taipei, Sachi Izumi in Tokyo
and Yinka Adegoke in New York)

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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