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Earthquake off Taiwan hits cables, BPOs unhurt

December 28, 2006 00:44 IST
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An earthquake off Taiwan on Tuesday night, measuring 6.7-7.1 on the Richter scale, knocked out Internet links to India for 20-25 minutes and affected Reliance Communications' FLAG and VSNL's SEA-ME-WE-3 under-sea cable systems, even as telecommunications around Asia was severely disrupted, with Internet services slowing and financial transactions being hindered, particularly in the currency market.

However, BPO and IT services across India remained largely unaffected.

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 ¬ó 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."

Meanwhile, Sify customers received an SMS stating, "You may experience slow browsing." A Sify spokesperson said, "We have five under-sea cables and hence the overall effect is marginal. The SMS was a proactive measure on our part."

South Korea's top fixed-line and broadband service provider, KT Corp, said six submarine cables were knocked out by Tuesday night's earthquakes. "Twenty-seven of our customers were hit, including banks and churches," a KT spokesperson said. "It is not known yet when we can fully restore services."

The foreign exchange market suffered in Seoul. "Trading of the Korean won has mostly halted due to the communication problem," said a dealer at one domestic bank. Some disruption was also reported in the important Tokyo currency market, but the EBS system that handled much dollar/yen trading appeared to be working.

Global information company Reuters Group said users of its services in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan had been affected, although dealing services were restored in Tokyo in the afternoon.

The main quake, measured by Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau at magnitude 6.7 and at magnitude 7.1 by the US Geological Survey, struck off Taiwan's southern coast on Tuesday. Two people were killed.

In China, financial markets worked normally, but China Telecommunications Group, the country's biggest fixed-line telephone operator and parent of China Telecom Corp, said Internet had been badly disrupted.

Phone links and dedicated business lines had also been affected to some degree, it said. Officials declined to give details. "Undersea communication cables fall in the area of state secrets," said a Ministry of Communications official in Beijing.

Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's biggest telecom carrier, said two of the four major under-sea cables out of Taiwan had been affected, initially cutting more than half of its international telecommunications capacity. Calls to Southeast Asia were the worst affected, with less than 10 per cent going through -- an improvement since the morning, when less than 2 per cent succeeded.

KDDI Corp, Japan's second-largest telecom company, said communication along submarine cables out of Japan went through Taiwan before reaching Southeast Asian countries, which was leading to disruption, but there were alternative lines.

PCCW, Hong Kong's main fixed-line telecom provider, said several under-sea cables it part-owned had been damaged. "Data transfer is down by half," a spokesperson said.

Both Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), Southeast Asia's top phone company, and local rival StarHub Ltd said Internet services were slow.

But SingTel said traffic was being diverted and repair work was in progress, adding, "Our submarine cables linking to Europe and the US have not been affected."

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co said its Internet service was intermittent and international phone calls had been disrupted, but domestic calls and its Smart mobile phone service were working normally.

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