Taiwan quake shakes telecom links in Asia

Posted on December 27, 2006  /  10 Comments

The strong quake off Taiwan’s coast on December 26 damaged six separate submarine cables and severely disrupted telecom links in the East, Southeast and South Asia. Internet connectivity in a number of countries are either down or are slowed down thanks to taffic that is being rerouted over networks that have escaped damage. Most of Jakarta (Indonesia) and Pondicherry (Southern India) have been without Internet until this afternoon (Dec 27) at least. In our office in Sri Lanka, SLT’s ADSL connection (though congested) is working. However, Lankacom’s leased line is down since it probably connects to the Internet backbone via Singapore.

These disruptions have major consequences for any business that relies on telecom for delivering their services, including, banking, trading, call centers, remotely managed services etc. This event also underlines the necessity for redundancy and why policymakers and regulators must liberalize international gateways to allow a number of different submarine cables connecting different destinations to land in a country.
From Bloomberg:

Damaged cables include the APCN2 cable and Sea-Me-We3 cables, Chunghwa’s Leng said. Eight STM-1 cables from Okinawa off Japan and 4 STM-1 cables to Shanghai are acting as backup, Chunghwa said in a statement. The company may also use the ST-1 satellite.
Singapore Telecom, France Telecom SA and Pakistan Telecommunication Co. are among companies that own the Sea-Me-We3 cables linking Europe to Asia. Operators in the APCN2 cable network that connects Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore include China Unicom Ltd., StarHub Ltd., Telekom Malaysia Bhd. and Telstra Corp.
[..]“The repairs could take two to three weeks,” said Leng Tai-feng, president of Chunghwa Telecom Co.’s international business. The Taipei-based company, Taiwan’s largest phone operator, said two of its undersea cables were cut.
HSBC Holdings Plc said its online banking services were down, while Chunghwa said almost no calls could be made to Southeast Asia, causing disruption to companies including First State Investments in Singapore.
“I can’t trade if I don’t know the prices,” said David Leong, who heads the Singapore trading desk at First State, which manages $15 billion in equities in Asia and emerging markets. “I’ve put in limit orders to try to minimize the damage, but even then you need to have the basic information.”


  1. “In India, several back offices and call centers had difficulty with the communication lines, but industry officials said the full extent of the problem would not be known only after a proper assessment when data and voice traffic peaked during European and U.S. business hours.” from: http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/16120.html

  2. BPOs in the Philippines experience disruptions and this is what the Technology Enquirer had to say:

    “[..]BUSINESS process outsourcing companies in the Philippines are set to meet with telecommunications companies to discuss ways to improve disaster preparedness in the wake of yet another “unexpected” event, a representative of local call centers told INQUIRER.net.”

    “This is a major concern for us. What happened right now is unexpected,” said Jojo Uligan, spokesperson of the Call Center Association of the Philippines, as he acknowledged the importance of having “99.99 percent” uptime despite events such as the 7.1 earthquake in Taiwan that damaged major submarine fiber optic lines.

    [..]He said most call centers in the Philippines are designed to have “back up” and redundant networks in case disaster such as earthquakes strike.

    “Some call centers were down for an hour, while others for a few minutes,” he added[..]

  3. Business Standard:
    Reliance Communications’ FLAG and Videsh Sanchar Nigam\’s SEA-ME-WE-3 undersea cable systems suffered damage. Among other countries, the FLAG cable links India, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Korea and Japan. SEA-ME-WE 3 includes 39 landing points in 33 countries across Western Europe, Far East and Australia. Officials of the two companies, however, refused to comment on the matter.

    In India, Internet links were disrupted for around 20-25 minutes. Spokespersons from companies like 24/7Customer, Infosys BPO, Wipro BPO, Intellinet, WNS and Tech Mahindra said their operations were not affected.

  4. India’s BPO operations were largely unaffected because of redundant cable routing via North Africa to Europe and through the Atlantic to the USA. Hence traffic is being re-routed through a number of submarine cables headed west (SEA-ME-W4, SEA-ME-WE3, FLAG East Asia etc.) to avoid the damaged portions of the submarine cable network off Taiwan. Indonesia continues to suffer Internet disruptions because unlike India, it does not have enough submarine cables landing into the country and operators do not have as much flexibility for re-routing traffic.


    Spokespersons for companies like 24/7Customer, Infosys BPO, Wipro BPO, Intellinet, WNS and Tech Mahindra said their operations remained unaffected.

    The damage was contained to some extent since the disruption took place at a time when data and voice traffic had not peaked in Europe and the US, which accounted for a major part of their businesses.

    The other reason was that all Indian players had accounted for such natural disasters and built in two levels of redundancies.

    These companies have coverage across the Pacific and the Atlantic and if one of these links snaps, the other one takes over seamlessly.

    The FLAG cable links India, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Korea and Japan. SEA-ME-WE 3 includes 39 landing points in 33 countries across four continents, from Western Europe to the Far East and Australia.

    Other cables damaged in the quake included those of Asia-Pacific Cable Network, Asia Pacific Cable Network 2, Cable 2 Cable, China US Cable Network, and East Asia Cable.

    A VSNL spokesperson said: “VSNL’s traffic has not been significantly affected by the earthquake in Taiwan since we do not have cable systems going there directly. SEA-ME-WE 3 interconnects with other cable systems in the region that has been affected, and hence the disruption. The company is taking action to re-route its affected traffic to other cable systems and normalcy is expected in about 24 hours.”

  5. Donald Gaminitillake

    Not only Indonesia but even Malaysia seems to be having problems.
    Net supposed to be very slow.
    It is interesting to find out how Lanka is linked.
    Do we follow the same Indian solution!!!


  6. Fortunately, Sri Lanka is linked to the recently laid higher capacity SEE-ME-WE4 as well as the older SEE-ME-WE3 that go westward via Mumbai, North Africa to Western Europe. There is also the BSNL-SLT submarine cable that connects to south India.

    In Sri Lanka, Internet disruptions has been minimal even on Dec 27th.

    In Indonesia, Internet connectivity is limping back to normal. As an emergency measure, the regulator has allowed operators and businesses to connect to international satellites, which was previously illegal. This disaster has underlined why the International Gateway (IGW) should be fully liberalized to allow for multiple cables to land in Indonesia. The current duopoly strategy has not resulted in either of the operators building international submarine capacity nor has it permitted private international carriers from landing in Indonesia. The recent White Paper proposing only an additional international license will also not do the job.

    Hopefully, this event will be used by the policymakers as an opportunity to take on the vested interests that have held back more extensive and necessary reforms of the sector.

    Jakarta Post Dec 30th:
    “At least three of the major telecommunication operators have
    notified us that their internet capacities have slightly recovered,”
    Post and Telecommunications Directorate General director Basuki
    Yusuf Iskandar told The Jakarta Post .

    Telkom, the country’s largest telecommunications company reported
    that it had raised its internet capacity from 17 percent or 430
    megabytes after the Taiwan earthquake, to 33 percent or 1,310
    megabyte on Friday around 7 p.m., Basuki said.

    Meanwhile, PT Excelcomindo, a major mobile telecommunications
    operator, said that it had its internet connections were running
    at 50 percent, up from 20 percent on Tuesday.

    No clear capacity percentage report was available from Indosat,
    the second largest telecommunications company in the country.
    However, Basuki said, it was estimated it would regain 40 percent
    of its access to the internet by January 8.

  7. A 17-member consortium is to build a 1.9 terabit capacity submarine cable to connect Asia to the USA. The cable will take a an alternative routing of the existing APCN2 and USA-Japan cables in order to avoid the seismically unstable “Pacific ring of fire” where cable outages occurred in December 26 of 2006 due to earthquakes. The cable is expected to be up sometime in 2008.

    The article states that the 20,000 kilometres cable system will connect Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii and the US West Coast. However, the consortium includes operators from India, Indonesia and I would expect the cable to make stops in those countries as well.

    More here

  8. The proposed routing of the AAG submarine cable. Doesn’t show landing points in Indonesia or Indiaaag.jpg

  9. PT Telkom said it would build a cable to Singapore to connect to the AAG submarine cable and Bharti would probably do the same.