Tonga’s undersea communications cable ‘could be broken after all’, says Southern Cross

Southern Cross Cable Network says the 872 kilometer fiber optic communications cable linking Tonga to the outside world may have been broken after all.

A cable break could mean that communications to and from Tonga could remain limited for days or weeks, depending on whether the cut took place on land or at sea.

Telephone and internet communications to and from Tonga have been sparse after the Tonga cable that connects the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa to the Southern Cross trans-Pacific cable in Suva, Fiji was taken out of service following the Hunga Tonga volcanic eruption. eruption and tsunami on Saturday.

Southern Cross sales manager Craige Slots initially said on Sunday morning that it was unclear whether the fiber optic cable had been cut or had just been disabled due to a power outage.

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He later said an update from his partner Fintel suggested the Tonga cable itself “looked good”.

But in another update shortly before 5pm on Sunday New Zealand time, Slots said there could be “slightly worse news”.

“It looks like there might be a cable break after all,” he said.

Southern Cross is partly owned by the New Zealand telecommunications company Spark.

Digicel, a Jamaican telephone company which partly owns the Tonga Cable System, said earlier on Sunday afternoon that it could be 24 hours before it could provide an update on the restoration work of the important communications link.

Digicel, which is a minority shareholder in the cable majority-owned by the government of Tonga, said in the statement that “all communications with the world outside of Tonga are affected due to the damage to the Tonga Cable Limited submarine cable”. .

The company said it was working urgently with local authorities to “resolve the damage”, adding that its nationwide mobile phone towers were operating on the main island of Tongatapu.

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Nuku’alofa-based Mary Fonua said the volcano’s eruption was “frightening”.

While the Tonga Cable System would normally carry almost all telephone and internet traffic to and from Tonga, satellite earth stations – or expensive satellite phones that connect directly to satellites without any ground infrastructure – can provide an alternative means of maintain certain communications.

Digicel said it was working to get satellite link connectivity “and that will be available to limited customers in essential services and government”.

“We are all praying for the safety of our loved ones in Tonga. In the next 24 hours we will have an update for you on our systems,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook.

“We understand the need to be connected to loved ones during this difficult time and will continue to work with local authorities to restore full connectivity as soon as possible,” he said.

Planet Labs photographed the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano two hours before it exploded on Saturday and said it was working to collect images of areas affected by the tsunami it generated.

Planet Labs PBC

Planet Labs photographed the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano two hours before it exploded on Saturday and said it was working to collect images of areas affected by the tsunami it generated.

Digicel said in a previous update that it had been in contact with its team “on the ground across Tongatapu and the outer islands” and that they were all safe, while adding that there were ” damage along riparian areas extending 50 meters inland”.

Tonga Cable’s website was still offline shortly after 5 p.m.

In the worst case scenario where the Tonga Cable has been cut at sea, a specialist cable repair vessel may have to be dispatched to repair the cut.

But terrestrial fiber optic cable cuts can be repaired relatively quickly.

The Tonga cable has already been cut once, in 2019, in an incident attributed to a ship’s anchor catching the cable, dragging it and snapping it.

It took two weeks for a cable repair vessel operated by undersea cable company TE Subcom to reach the site and repair it.

Specialized vessels and equipment are needed to repair submarine cables if they break at sea.

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Specialized vessels and equipment are needed to repair submarine cables if they break at sea.

After the 2019 cable break, the Tongan government signed a contract with Singaporean company Kacific to upgrade its satellite communications links, according to Kacific.

Such links can provide a limited backup for international telephone and internet services and Kacific said at the time that they would also be used to connect outer islands to Nuku’alofa.

Kacific reportedly filed a lawsuit against Tonga’s state-owned company Tonga Satellite Limited this year, alleging it failed to receive millions of dollars for its equipment and services.

The company has been contacted for information on the status of its ground station infrastructure in Tonga.

With conventional communications scarce, more information about the situation on the ground in Tonga may come from aerial or satellite imagery.

California satellite company Planet Labs, which took a picture of the volcano just two hours before it erupted, said it was working to collect images of areas affected by the tsunami it generated.

Planet operates a fleet of approximately 200 satellites that circle the globe every 24 hours.

Spokeswoman Anne Pellegrino said she expected to take new photos later on Sunday New Zealand time of the volcano after it erupted.

Spark said it would waive all charges for calls to Tonga from Spark landlines and mobiles for one week, until next Sunday, while noting that services were currently interrupted.

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