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The Process Of Fixing Tonga’s Broken Internet Cable

With the devastating volcano eruption on January 15 and subsequent tsunami, the undersea fibre-optic cable connecting Tonga was severed. As a result, Tonga’s 110,000 people were cut off from the rest of the world.

That’s hardly something you want at the best of times. But during a humanitarian crisis, it’s particularly devastating

Now, New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs are saying it could take more than a month to repair the 49,889km cable in the South Pacific.

As a stop-gap measure, a 2G wireless connection has been established through a satellite dish from the University of the South Pacific, but the service is unreliable, and the internet runs slowly.

The big question now is how the break – believed to be 37km offshore – can be fixed?

The first step will be to send a pulse of light from the island. A machine will measure how long this takes to travel to determine exactly where the break is.

A repair boat will then be sent and use either a remotely operated underwater vehicle or basically a hook on a chain to grab the broken end, which will then be rejoined to new cable onboard the boat, and the same process will entail for the other end of the cable.

Sounds simple, and it should only take between five and seven days. But the closest specialised cable repair boat – the Reliance – is currently in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 4700km away.

The Reliance serves more than 50,000km of the South Pacific.

Experts also have to ensure the area is safe and that no more volcanoes are likely to erupt.

Around 200 similar repairs are undertaken annually, with 90 per cent caused by fishing boat nets or anchors.

Unfortunately, Tonga only has the one cable. The UK, for example, have about 50. Around the globe, it’s believed there are more than 430, spanning 1.3 million kilometres.

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