How will Tonga’s damaged internet cable be mended?

An underwater fiber-optic cable that links Tonga to the rest of the globe was broken during the eruption of a volcano.

New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs said it might take more than a month to repair the 49,889km (31,000miles) of cable in the South Pacific.

The underwater explosion – followed by a tsunami – led to Tonga’s 110,000 inhabitants being cut off.

A 2G wireless connection has been established on the main island, using a satellite dish from the University of the South Pacific. But the coverage is intermittent, and internet services function slowly.

How will Tonga's broken internet cable be mended?

How will the cable be fixed?

The cable, which is managed by Tonga Cable, is reported to have broken some 37km (23 miles) offshore.

According to Reuters, fault-finding undertaken by the corporation in the aftermath of the volcano appeared to indicate a cable break.

The procedure of fixing it is really fairly straightforward, according to chief engineer at Virgin Media, Peter Jamieson, who is also vice-chairman of the European Subsea Cable Association.

“They will transmit a pulse of light from the island and a machine will measure how long it takes to go and this will identify where the break is,” he stated.

Then a cable-repair boat will be deployed to the place of the initial break.

It will employ either a ROV (remotely-operated underwater vehicle) or a tool known as a grapnel (essentially a hook on a chain) to collect the shattered end.

That will be re-joined to new cable on board the boat and then the same procedure will proceed at the other end of the break. If everything goes well, the complete procedure will take between five and seven days.

Why would it take longer?

How will Tonga's broken internet cable be mended?

It will take time to deploy a cable repair boat to the archipelago and the nearest one is now stationed in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea – around 4,700km (2,900 miles) away.

The specialty boat, The Reliance, services more than 50,000km (31,000 miles) in the South Pacific.

Experts will have to establish that the location is safe for the boat and the crew, and that no further volcanoes are expected to erupt.

Do these wires fail often?

It is expected that worldwide there are up to 200 repairs carried out every year, although natural calamities triggering them are uncommon. 90 percent of breakages originate from fishing-boat nets or anchors.

Increasingly, tracking technology is being utilized to tell operators about any boats in regions likely to pose a hazard to cables, so that they may be called immediately to warn them.

Data cables are made up of fibre-optic strands of glass, although most of the thickness of the cable is essentially protective covering protecting the glass strands.

Cables that pass across a continental shelf have to be buried between one and two metres deep. However, many merely lay on the ocean bottom since they are too deep beneath the water for anything to destroy them.

The exception to this is natural calamities, such as occurred in Tonga. In 2006, an earthquake off the coast of Taiwan destroyed a cable, and resulted to a loss of internet and international phone services in the area.

How crucial are these cables?

How will Tonga's broken internet cable be mended?

In Western nations, if one cable breaks it is not an issue, since there are many more.

The UK, for example, has roughly 50 cables streaming data into the nation.

In Tonga, there was only one. “Ideally you would have at least two wires as a minimum,” added Mr Jamieson. “But cables are costly and there is no desire for Facebook, Google or anybody to put one there.”

Around the globe it is believed there are more than 430 cables, reaching lengths of 1.3 million kilometers (800,000 miles) (800,000 miles).

After a previous cable break in 2019 – from a ship’s anchor – Tonga inked a 15-year contract to receive satellite access. But the usage of satellite phones has been hindered by the volcanic ash blanketing the area. Some folks have complained they can only dial out – and not receive calls.

Because of the expense, the usage of satellite phones is restricted to government officials, and select enterprises.

Mobile network operator Digicel has built up an interim system on the main island of Tongatapu, utilizing the University of the South Pacific’s satellite dish to give limited 2G coverage.

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