By Mia Shanley
Asia's telecommunications services were partly restored on Thursday
after earthquakes off Taiwan cut undersea cables and knocked millions
of users offline, but with few alternative routes, access was slow and
patchy. Many callers received 'fast busies' or 'no circuits available
Telephone traffic was back to normal in some parts of Asia but many
operators in North Asia struggled to get up to full speed a day after
business and home users from Seoul to Sydney were hit by one of the
worst tech disruptions in Asia.
Internet access in many countries had also improved by Thursday
although many customers complained of slow connections. A newspaper
cartoon describing the incident showed a man sitting at his computer,
with whiskers growing on his chin, spider webs and the message, 'World
Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's top phone company, said it could take up to
three weeks to repair six submarine cables owned by a consortium of
Two powerful quakes off Taiwan on Tuesday, one of magnitude 7.1
according to the U.S. Geological Survey, severed the cables.
At least five maintenance ships based in the region are heading for
the waters near southern Taiwan to repair the undersea cables, Hong
Kong's telecoms regulator said.
"In general, it requires about five to seven days to repair the
cables," the regulator said in a statement. "However, due to the
earthquake, the seabed may have been damaged and there may be further
earthquakes that will affect the maintenance work."
The main quake struck off Taiwan's southern coast at 1226 GMT on
Tuesday, killing two people and leading to aftershocks that sparked
chaos on Wednesday. Businesses across the region ground to a halt,
although many said it was fortunate that the breakdown happened in the
middle of the quiet holiday period.
"Voice services to the United States, Japan, Canada, China and
Singapore have been restored as of 1 pm (0500 GMT)," an official at
Chunghwa said. However, services to Hong Kong remain seriously
disrupted, with only 27.6 percent functioning, while those to
Southeast Asia were about 50 percent.
Regional operators scrambled to divert traffic through other lines or
via satellite. But the switch to alternative cables put additional
pressure on Asia's networks, causing slow Internet access and problems
KDDI Corp., Japan's second-largest telecoms firm, said that while its
international phone services had switched to alternative routes, about
177 of its corporate network lines remained affected, compared with
290 lines on Wednesday.
NTT Communications, a unit of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.,
said in a statement that 87 percent of its 243 corporate data
transmission lines had recovered by mid-morning while some of its
Internet services continued to be slow.
KT Corp., South Korea's top fixed-line and broadband operator, had
restored most of the telephone services but broadband services for
some clients, including banks and the country's foreign ministry,
Local media reported that 36 foreign bank branches in South Korea had
Sofyan Djalil, Indonesia's information and communications minister,
told a press conference the government would ease its restrictions on
the use of foreign satellite links after serious disruption to the
nation's Internet service.
"A lot of fiber-optic cables are still broken. This affects the entire
area including Indonesia. The effects are mainly seen in the banking
sector, by users of international ATMs and the internet," he said.
Hong Kong's dominant fixed-line and broadband provider PCCW Ltd. said
it would take days to recover lost capacity but did not provide
SHAKY, BUT BETTER
By Thursday afternoon, business across the tech-savvy region appeared
to be suffering from fewer disruptions. Regional stock markets
continued their strong year-end run after a record close on Wall
Several Fortune 500 firms in Singapore, Southeast Asia's financial
center, had been hit by the disruption on Wednesday, with Internet
access completely down or slowing to a crawl.
"It's getting better because more traffic is being diverted to other
cables right now," said a spokesman at StarHub, Singapore's
second-largest telecoms firm.
Singapore Telecommunications, Southeast Asia's top phone company, also
said services were progressively being restored, and that it was
working closely with the submarine cable consortium members.
CAT Telecom, Thailand's Internet regulator and sole controller of the
international gateway, said four of its eight optical networks had
been affected, causing its speed to drop by 70 percent. The problem
was expected to continue for seven to 10 days, a spokeswoman said.
Telekom Malaysia said international call services to countries
including Taiwan, Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea and the United
States had been affected but that it was working closely with other
Asian telecoms firms on the repairs.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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