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Services restored in SingTel fire may require network tweaks

Singapore telco says damaged fiber lines are back up and running, but some affected networks may need adjustments to come back online following a building fire that affected several banking and telecom services.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
SingTel says it's investing the cause of the fire and working with IDA to "review the robustness of our systems".

SINGAPORE--SingTel says fiber cable lines damaged from a fire earlier this week have been restored, but affected services may require some "limited network adjustments" to be restored. 

In a statement released Friday, the local carrier said all damaged cables were reconnected in the morning and most affected customers were expected to be able to use their services again.

Noting that certain services may need tweaking to function again, it added: "Some customers may experience difficulties in bringing equipment such as modems and set-top boxes back into operation, and we ask them to contact us for assistance." 

The fire at SingTel's network exchange located in Bukit Panjang, a suburban area in the western part of Singapore, caused extensive damage not only to its own network but also that of rival telcos StarHub and M1, halting several services across the island including ATM and communication services. Fixed voice lines, broadband, and TV services were affected, and data lines for some corporate customers were also brought down. Over 60,000 SingTel broadband customers were among those affected. 

The fire had broken out in a cable room and was extinguished in 20 minutes by water jets. At a media briefing Thursday, SingTel said it was still investing the cause of the fire and an internal board of inquiry will be working with local industry regulator, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), to "review the robustness of our systems and minimize the impact of such accidents in future".

In a separate statement Friday, Singapore's national fiber network operator OpenNet said damaged cables at its Central Office, which is located at the blazed site, also had been fully restored. It added that it was working with its service provider partners to ensure customer connections were functioning properly. 

The fire had damaged 81 of OpenNet's fiber cables, affecting about 23,000 fiber optic strands and 46,000 individual connections. According to SingTel, the fire damaged 149 cables, two-thirds of which were operated by OpenNet. 

In a statement it issued Friday afternoon, IDA said it had initiated a "full investigation" into the fire and identify the cause and will take "appropriate action" to prevent such incidents from happening again. 

"Under the Telecommunication Service Resiliency Code, operators are required to ensure the design of their networks and services are resilient to service outages, and when outages do occur, to ensure they restore the services expeditiously," the regulator said. 

It added that it had completed a review of the resiliency of Singapore's three mobile operators, assessing areas including network design, technical processes, and business continuity planning.

IDA said it would continue to review the country's telecommunications infrastructure, closely examining resiliency of all critical parts of the national infocomm infrastructure. Findings from this will be detailed in its new audit framework, it said. 

Just last week, M1 was fined a record S$1.5 million (US$1.2 million) for Singapore's worst network outage when various services were disrupted for three days in January. IDA chided the mobile operator for poor electrical installation practices and inadequate risk assessment practices, leading to sparks and smoke which set off a water sprinkler in a network center.  

The fire incident also comes amid ongoing industry scrutiny of SingTel's S$126 million bid to acquire OpenNet. The move triggered a rare display of unity between six Singapore broadband players and a regional consortium, which argued the acquisition--if approved by IDA--would be anti-competitive and could lead to discriminatory treatment. "If approved, the proposed consolidation would see SingTel becoming the 100 percent beneficial owner of the only other nationwide fixed telecommunications network in Singapore, apart from SingTel's own network," they said.

The acquisition bid is currently under IDA's review.

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