Trouble on the (undersea fiber optic) line
Right now, somewhere off the coast of Taiwan in the South China Sea, a small fleet of ships is engaged in what may amount to the most tricky and expensive wiring job ever, and the tech world is tuning in.
For those that missed it, on December 26th a magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocked the ocean floor off the southern tip of Taiwan. Two people were reported killed and dozens injured on land, where the damage to property was otherwise relatively contained. On the floor of the ocean, however, the scene was unusually ugly. Dozens of undersea fiber cables snapped or buried under shifting ground. "Taiwan lost almost all of its telephone capacity to Japan and mainland China," notes Vanguard. "Service to the United States also was hard hit, with 60 percent of capacity lost."
The outages were eventually remedied as carriers shunted traffic through other networks. However, the workaround circuits involving satellites are "slow, expensive and unstable compared with cable-based connections," writes the Shanghai Daily.
Almost two weeks later, China Telecom announced today that repairs could take several more weeks to complete. Picture five giant fiber fix-it boats bobbing around on the high seas with grappling hooks. Lindsay Goldwert at Slate has put together a helpful item entitled "How Do You Fix an Undersea Cable?" Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the job is especially "difficult as some cables had become trapped under the seabed or were tangled up." Apparently the water is too deep for the repair crews to use their unmanned subs. "Instead, we must use a kind of grappling hook - a rope with chains and hooks attached - that can be dragged along the sea bed to try and find the cable," says Ian Douglas of UK-based Global Marine Systems to the Beeb.
The Browser says this is all just another strangely reassuring reminder (listen up all you Second Life addicts) of our essential terrestrial-ness.
Photo courtesy of STV, Inc.
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