Tonga: The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano created tidal waves in the Pacific, severing the fiber that connected the archipelago to the rest of the world. Although simple repair process can take more than a month depending on working conditions.
The approximately 50,000 km long submarine cable belongs to Tonga Cable Ltd. and is responsible for all internet connection in the region. According to Peter Jamieson, president of the European Submarine Cable Association, cable repair is simple, at least in theory.
The technical team sends a pulse of light through the fiber and precision equipment identifies the position where the cable was broken. Then, a repair boat is sent to the region, the cable is hoisted using an unmanned underwater vehicle or a hook system.
Aboard the boat, the cable is reconnected via a splice — the process is repeated with the other end of the break. Under ideal conditions, the procedure takes between five and seven days.
The #TongaEruption has left most of Tonga w/out phone or Internet.
Re-establishing communications is urgent. @WFPAsiaPacific is working to bridge connectivity while the submarine cable is being repaired.
We continue to assess needs with our Food Security partners & @LogCluster. pic.twitter.com/YowKkO29Qr
— World Food Programme (@WFP) January 19, 2022
Adverse conditions and extent of damage
Apparently, the problem happened 37 km from the main island, a region where volcanic activity is more intense. Therefore, it is not known if the cable was just ruptured, exploded or if it is trapped under rubble.
In addition, the Reliance, a repair boat assigned to the region, is 4,700 km from the site, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Thus, the most optimistic estimate is at least a month between moving the boat, supplying it with the necessary equipment, determining if the region is safe for operation and carrying out the repair.
For now, communication with the island has been re-established via a 2G network using the University of the South Pacific satellite antenna, but the measure is palliative and internet services work poorly.