China-U.S. cable cut spotlights hazards

By , InfoWorld |  Networking

A BREAK FRIDAY morning in a fiber-optic cable that links the United States and Asia highlighted the fragility of the region's Internet infrastructure for the second time in the past four months.

The China-U.S. Cable Network, an 80Gbps link opened just over a year ago, broke at about 8 a.m. Friday local time in Chinese waters off Shanghai, according to the Web site of Taiwan telecommunications carrier Chunghwa Telecom. The cut was most likely caused by a passing fishing boat, it said.

The break slowed Internet access for users in many parts of Asia, including 5 million users in Taiwan, according to Chunghwa.

Engineers were still working late Friday afternoon to repair the cut, according to Carrie Chan, business manager in Hong Kong at Teleglobe Hong Kong, a partner in the cable.

"The segment between China and Korea has been cut," Chan said. "Most of the [Internet service providers] can't connect to the Internet, or the speed is very slow."

"There are lots of people working on the problem, but if the fiber is cut it takes some time to fix," Chan said.

Chunghwa, operator of Taiwan's largest ISP, Hinet, said it was attempting to use a link to the United States via Japan to partly make up for the loss of capacity. Its Web site advised customers to avoid trying to access U.S. sites unless necessary. Access to sites within Asia was not as much disturbed. Taiwan's second-largest ISP, Seednet, said it was directing traffic over a T-3 (45Mbps) satellite connection called TW-Gate for its 520,000 subscribers.

Last November, the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable suffered a cut in the waters between Jakarta, Indonesia, and Singapore that took approximately two weeks to repair. Australian carrier Telstra lost about half its Internet capacity during the failure.

Asia's rapidly growing demand for Internet access has led to a flood of new capacity recently, mostly in the form of submarine cables. However, cuts like the one on Friday, and the fact that much of Asia is crisscrossed with earthquake faults, have caused concern among carriers about the future reliability of the Internet in Asia.

The China-U.S. Cable Network began operation in January 2000 with landings in California, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Guam. A second leg, which will create a loop and provide backup in case of a failure, is still under construction.

The cable was built by a consortium of carriers that included AT&T, China Telecom, MCI Worldcom, Singapore Telecommunications, and Sprint. More than 20 additional carriers, including Teleglobe USA, have since joined the consortium.

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