Jurassic Park

Earthquake Disrupts Internet and Telecoms Connectivity
by: Jerry Liao

It’s been weeks now since an earthquake measured at magnitude 6.7 hit Taiwan that caused massive telecommunication disruptions throughout Asia, and up until now we are still experiencing slow internet service. Broadband connection suddenly turns to 14.4kbps modem speed. People are asking why is our connection here in the Philippines affected by the Taiwan earthquake?

It is worth to note that the earthquake caused the rupture of undersea data transmission cables in Taiwan. Fiber links are generally built in loops. A provider, for example, in the Philippines runs an undersea loop from the Philippines to Taiwan to Korea to Japan, then takes another route back to the Philippines. Now if one link in the loop breaks, data will then automatically take another direction – another way around the loop.

The Taiwan earthquake caused too many links to break at the same time on too many rings. It was reported that the earthquake broke six undersea cables from Hong Kong to Europe and North America. Given the damage and the number of providers connected to the loop, data has nowhere to go and this causes the disruption and stoppage.

It is like the 4-lane highway EDSA suddenly turning into a 1-lane street; heavy vehicular traffic certainly will happen. Repairs should be done at the soonest time possible to bring the traffic back to normal. In the case of restoring the connection back to normal, two repair ships will soon start fixing damaged undersea cables and will take two to three weeks to complete their task.

Natural calamities like the Taiwan earthquake is something we cannot avoid. What we can do is to have contingency plans in place just in case the same incident will happen again in the future. Unfortunately backup plans and backup infrastructures were not in place. There have been talks that providers are configuring mesh architecture instead of the usual ring structure. Mesh architecture will have more than two routes to each endpoint rather than routing in one of two directions around a loop.

While the damage and the cost of repair will reach millions, I can just imagine that the effect of the disruption will also reach millions and will continue to pile up until such time that normal connection is achieved. Businesses like financial institutions and online storefronts that rely heavily on internet connectivity suffered the heaviest blow and incurred the greatest lost.

For ordinary consumers, not being able to browse through the web to get the information they need and email becoming inaccessible is already a big problem. I myself experienced the same thing; I was not able to access my web-based email and pop emails. As far as I can remember, this is the worst disruption I have encountered and would say it is the longest. I can now send and receive email and browse through the web but the slow speed is something I have to bear. As some of my friends said a slow connection is better than no connection at all.

Aside from monetary considerations and opportunity lost, efficiency and work effectivity is also affected considering the time consumed waiting for information to become available.

The disruption made us realize that there’s a lot of work to be done still especially in the area of having alternative and yet affordable backup connectivity. Satellite connection can be one but it’s expensive and cannot handle the same amount of traffic compared to land and sea links.

Another realization brought about by the disruption is how dependent are we on the internet nowadays. Most of my colleagues find computers useless without the internet. The internet has become an integral part of our computing chores, I may even go to the extent of saying that without the internet, computers are no longer computers. Without the internet, the machine we rely on doing most of our work has suddenly turned into a mere toy.

I have been saying ever since that technology should serve only as a tool in our everyday lives and we should do everything not to be a slave or be enslaved by it. Being unproductive just because connection was not available is not an encouraging development. With or without internet connectivity, life and work must go on. But of course, it’s easier said than done.

*****

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