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Asian quake disrupts phone, data service

Undersea fiber optic cables are damaged by the temblor off Taiwan. Connections to North America are affected.

December 28, 2006|From the Associated Press

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — With one blow, Mother Nature triggered the largest telecommunications outage in years, cutting off or slowing telephone and Internet traffic in Asia from Beijing to Bangkok, Thailand.

A powerful earthquake off the southern tip of Taiwan late Tuesday damaged up to a dozen fiber optic cables that cross the ocean floor south of Taiwan. They usually carry traffic among Taiwan, China, Japan, the Korean peninsula, Southeast Asia and North America.

The magnitude 6.7 tremor, which struck near the town of Hengchun, killed two Taiwanese and injured more than 40 people.

It also showed the vulnerability of the global telecommunications network.

Chunghwa Telecom Co., Taiwan's largest phone company, said the quake damaged several undersea fiber lines, and repairs could take two to three weeks.

A Taiwanese telecommunications official said today that 95% of Asia's earthquakedisrupted data transmission service and 80% of its phone service was close to being restored.

Lin Jen-lung, vice general manager of Chunghwa, also said four ships with crews to repair the undersea data transmission cables ruptured in the earthquake would arrive in the affected area Tuesday.

Taiwan lost almost all of its telephone service to Japan and China. Connections to the U.S. also were hit hard, with 60% of capacity lost.

Later, Chunghwa said links to the U.S., China and Canada were mostly restored, but 70% of service to Japan was still down, along with 90% of the capacity to Southeast Asia.

Stephan Beckert, an analyst with the Washington-based research firm TeleGeography, said it was the largest telecommunications failure in years.

"The magnitude of the break is surprising because Taiwan is otherwise a very well-connected system," Beckert said.

He noted that cables were cut and disrupted frequently but there's usually enough backup capacity on other lines to keep traffic flowing without customers noticing an interruption.

But with multiple cables broken at once, Internet traffic around the Pacific was disrupted.

Hong Kong telephone company PCCW Ltd., which also provides Internet service, said the quake cut its data capacity in half. Internet access was cut or severely slowed in Beijing, said an executive with China Netcom, China's No. 2 phone company.

The Internet Traffic Report website, which monitors Internet connectivity in several countries, showed that packet loss, or the percentage of data that failed to reach its destination, surged in Asia at the time of the earthquake, rising from about 10% to more than 40%.

On Wednesday afternoon U.S. East Coast time, the site showed limited connectivity to China, Singapore and Indonesia, while Japan and Taiwan were apparently back to normal.

KDDI Corp., Japan's major carrier of international calls, said its fixed-line telephone service was affected by the quake. Spokesman Haruhiko Maeda said the company was rerouting calls through the U.S. and Europe.

Korea Telecom of South Korea said the lines it used were damaged, affecting dozens of companies and institutions, including the Foreign Ministry.

In the U.S., Cisco Systems Inc.'s Linksys division warned that customer support call centers for its home networking gear were affected by the outage, but other companies with overseas call centers reported few problems.

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