How Telstra handles subsea cables during typhoons

Telstra was able to ensure there was no interruption of services across its subsea cables during Typhoon Mangkhut thanks to its submarine network management process, the telco has said.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra's subsea cable management process was put to the test with Hong Kong's Typhoon Mangkut last week, with the carrier able to ensure services remained up and running thanks to the steps it takes to ensure redundancy.

According to Oliver Camplin-Warner, ED of Global Sales at Telstra, three of the world's largest social media organisations last week phoned Telstra CEO Andy Penn directly to ensure that the telco would be activating additional capacity on its network in preparation of the typhoon.

"Within a matter of hours, we were able to do that, and as a result there was absolutely no interruption of service whatsoever," Camplin-Warner told media during Telstra Vantage 2018 in Melbourne on Thursday.

"Whenever there's a typhoon in the region, the submarine cables are really prone to being damaged. The typhoon can come through, and because of all the movement from the waves, it can actually snap the cable."

Subsea cable cuts can take a long time to repair, but Camplin-Warner said that because Telstra has so much redundancy in its subsea cable networks -- with around 400,000km of cable across the globe -- it can immediately divert the traffic to alternative paths so that customers are not impacted.

Explaining to ZDNet the process of ensuring its subsea cables remain up and running during natural disasters such as the most recent typhoon to hit Hong Kong, Camplin-Warner said one of the first steps was having staffers on the ground.

"In Hong Kong, they have the typhoon scale; when it gets to level nine, everyone has to go home. But when it gets to 10, it's literally lock yourselves away," he told ZDNet.

"Normal practice is that everyone has to go home, so we actually had to ensure and find a way that they could stay there so that they could actually be manning the systems so that when the alerts do come in, they're ready to respond accordingly."

Telstra had to therefore arrange accommodation, food, and other rations in the office to ensure it had people working on its systems throughout the typhoon.

"The other piece is then making sure that we have as much capacity as possible lit on the network, so making sure that we actually can activate the capacity in a much shorter period of time than it would normally take, so a lot of work goes into sort of preparing for that upfront," Camplin-Warner added.

"We also reach out to our customers proactively as well, so we actually sort of find out where they may have some concerns so that we can again anticipate in advance some of the challenges they may face."

Lastly, he said Telstra ensures it is "very accessible" to its customers before, during, and immediately following a typhoon.

Some of Telstra's subsea cable systems include the Hong Kong Americas (HKA) cable and the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), both of which stretch between Hong Kong and the United States.

Telstra earlier this week announced the completion of the landing of the Indigo West subsea cable at Floreat Beach, Perth, with the 2,400km cable segment between Christmas Island and Perth having been laid.

The second section of Indigo West, between Indonesia and Singapore, will begin later this month, while Indigo Central is continuing to be laid by the Ile de Brehat between Perth and Sydney.

Superloop had last month announced that it had already completed the marine survey, cable system manufacturing and factory testing for both Indigo West and Indigo Central, the drilling phase in Sydney for the landing of two subsea cables, installation of the beach manhole in Sydney for Indigo Central, and an agreement to provide its second landing facility to Southern Cross .

The Indigo Central final splice is expected to be complete in early December, and the Indigo West final splice in late December.

"Construction of one of our biggest infrastructure projects, the Indigo international subsea cable system, is progressing ahead of plan, and subject to weather conditions could be completed ahead of schedule and before the end of this financial year," Superloop CEO Drew Kelton said in August.

Being built by Telstra, SubPartners, Google, Singtel, AARNet, Indosat Ooredoo, and Alcatel Submarine Networks, the Indigo cable will span around 9,000km, connecting Sydney, Perth, Singapore, and Jakarta. It has two fibre pairs and a design capacity of 18Tbps.

During his Vantage 2018 keynote on Wednesday, Penn had also detailed how Telstra has built out more than 500km of submarine fibre cable from the north-west coast of Western Australia to Chevron's gas rigs located about 250km out to sea.

"The reason we're doing that is because Chevron, like many mining resources businesses, wants to move to a world fully automating the production of LNG, and that means moving to a world of unmanned rigs," Penn said.

"To achieve that, you need large volumes of data, data analytics, and compute power," he added, and once the network is ready, Telstra will be adding onshore 5G connectivity to this.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Telstra Vantage 2018 in Melbourne as a guest of Telstra

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