Radiation fears clouded Japan quake cable repairs

September 23rd, 2011 by · Leave a Comment

This article was authored by Melissa Chua, and was originally posted on telecomasia.net.
Repair works to submarine cables damaged by the earthquake that hit Japan in March were hindered by health concerns, said senior executives at Submarine Networks World 2011, who called for more diverse routes and a closer look at available technologies to mitigate disaster damage.
According to Pacnet CTO Wilfred Kwan, concerns around radiation levels caused by damage to the beleaguered Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant prevented mission-ready cable ships from reaching fault areas for a period of time. The disaster had impacted Pacnet’s EAC cable near Ajigaura in Japan.
Chairman of the Yokohama Zone Cable Agreement Management Hiroyuki Kuroda, whose organization provides maintenance and repair services for cable systems located in the northwest pacific, said the unique aspect of the post-Japan quake repair operations lay in the constant need for radiation level measurements both on operation grounds and in recovered cables.
Four cable ships had been dispatched for post-quake repair operations on three international cable systems, and repairs were only completed 5 August 2011. Repair efforts took up 365 days of ship usage in total and needed approximately 500km of cable, 12 repeaters and 1 branching unit.
Reliance Globalcom’s VP for sales and marketing in APAC Fabrizio Civitarese pointed out that despite the scale of recovery operations, connectivity problems caused by the Japan quake were moderate compared to the aftermaths of the Taiwan quake in 2007, which disrupted communication between APAC and the U.S. and the seabed earthquake that hit the Mediterranean Sea late 2008, which damaged three submarine cables and impacted telecommunications from the Middle East to the rest of the world.
According to Kwan, experience gained from the Taiwan quake had highlighted the importance of diverse routes and Pacnet had been able to recover more quickly post-Japan quake. Customers had also become more savvy post Taiwan quake, said Kwan, adding Pacnet had served several customers who formed teams to pick segments on diverse routes in case of disaster. Bharti Aritel’s VP for carrier sales K. Vidyasagar agreed, emphasizing the need to plan for additional redundancy and cable diversity.
President of Tata Communications’ global carrier solutions unit Byron Clatterbuck said that although none of the company’s facilities or cable systems had been damaged by the quake, the firm faced issues around putting up capacity for other partners or customers that had been impacted.
The Japan quake in fact brought out the pressing need for spare capacity in geographically important cable stations in case diverse routing was needed, said Ricky Lo, senior VP for Hutchison Global Communications’ international business division, who called for more routes that bypassed earthquake prone zones. Terrestrial links to China or cables like the AAG cable, which connects Southeast Asia to the USA via Hawaii and Guam, could greatly benefit telecommunications in the region, said Lo.
However, simply building alternative routes and interconnection agreements was not the only solution to mitigate the consequences of cable damage, said Civitarese. Instead, the right strategy could lie in a mix of cable and product solutions, such as providing redundancy on an IP traffic level to customers and strategic positioning of servers.
Everyone is ultimately concerned with protecting and delivering data from point A to B, said Kwan, indicating each protocol layer had a role to play and a review of technologies combined with risk analysis for customers would help greatly. Diverse routes form the key to the equation, said Kwan, but it was not the only solution.

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