Cable chop kills Otago, Southland communications

Telecom plans new cabling to remove single points of failure

A fibre-optic cable was severed by contractors working on the drains and culverts in the road between Dunedin and Waitati yesterday, leading to a total loss of landline and mobile telephone communications, as well as downing data circuits for much of Otago and Southland.

Telecom spokeswoman Sarah Berry confirmed that the outage occurred at 11:45am and lasted until 4:15pm by which time services had by large been restored. Berry says emergency numbers such as 111 were only affected for a few minutes while Telecom arranged for them to be diverted.

The University of Otago’s assistant director of IT policy, Neil James, says the Dunedin campus was totally cut off from the internet and adds that making phone calls were difficult. James says telephone calls could often not be completed, with callers getting automated messages that the network was overloaded.

Chris Auld, the head of Dunedin software development house Kognition, says many of his company’s customers rang up to complain about the loss of connectivity. However, Auld says that thanks to alternative data circuits from TelstraClear and servers in other parts of New Zealand customers that had opted for greater resiliency were largely unaffected by the outage. While bemoaning the lack of network redundancy in both Telecom and TelstraClear’s networks in Otago and Southland, Auld says that the arrangements his company made to survive an outage were successful.

Network operator Synaptic’s technical director, Dan Clark, says voice and data circuits stopped working in the Dunedin area, with mobile communications failing due to overloading. However, Vodafone’s network appeared to be fine, according to Clark.

Southland and Otago are served by a single fibre-optic cable running from south of Christchurch, making the provinces vulnerable to total communications outages, despite some microwave links that can act as backups for data and voice. Asked what Telecom intends to do to improve the resiliency of its network, Berry says a project is scheduled to start in July this year to lay additional cabling to remove the single points of failure in today’s network.

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