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Uh-oh: deep-sea cable cut that hit Telecom email won't be fixed until mid-February

UPDATE / Jan 17: A fault on a Singapore-to-Perth cable that hit Telecom's Xtra email service will not be fixed for a month, Singtel spokesman Sonny Phua told NBR ONLINE late yesterday.

Telecom initially said there was a cut on the Sea-Me-We 3 cable, but later tip-toed away from its initial statement, saying the state of the cable could not be ascertained until a repair ship arrived on the scene.

A cut is suspected but not confirmed, Mr Phua told NBR.

Repairs would be undertaken by a third-party and "are estimated to be completed in mid-February," the Singtel spokesman said.

Contingency plan working, email backlog cleared - Telecom
Telecom spokeswoman Joanne Jalfon says contingency plans are now in effect: "The email backlog has cleared so the re-routing of our email traffic is working ... I understand Yahoo! will continue to use alternate cable routes until the Sea-We-Me 3 cable is repaired."

James Spenceley, CEO of Vocus, the company that manages Yahoo's bandwidth out of Sydney says the problem has nothing to do with his company, or Yahoo.

He told NBR ONLINE the problem was that Telecom had chosen not to peer (interconnect) with his company, instead sending its email traffic on a circuitous route to Yahoo in Sydney that took in the Singapore-Perth leg of the SMW3 cable.

SMW3 was developed, and is managed, by a consortium of partners Mr Phua said. The partners include Singtel, France Telecom Orange and China Telecom.

Deep-sea cable cut hits Telecom email – blame game starts

Jan 15: A cut in a deep-sea cable between Australia and Singapore is affecting Telecom Xtra customers, the company says.

Customers may be experiencing delays on the delivery of mail they have sent from their Xtra email addresses. There is no impact on the receiving of emails to accounts.

Telecom is advising customers to check with their email recipients if they are sending urgent communication and to resist resending emails as this could create congestion.

Telecom’s Xtra service provider, Yahoo's Sydney-based operation, utilises a submarine cable out of Perth to Singapore to transit some of its email traffic, Telecom says (an account disputed by Vocus, the company that handles Yahoo's bandwidth out of Australia; see comments below).

While cable repairs are underway, Yahoo has re-routed mail traffic away from the impacted cable and is working to clear the delayed email queues.

Telecom will continue to provide updates on its websites regarding expected service restoration but at this stage it is unlikely to be today, Telecom says.

Spokeswoman Joanne Jalfon told NBR ONLINE that Gen-i customers were not affected.

The cut occured on the Sea-Me-We-3 cable managed by Singtel.

Bandwidth wholesaler Vocus manages Yahoo's connectivity over the cable, Telecom says.

There seems to be room for better communication somewhere in the Singtel-Vocus-Yahoo-Telecom loop.

Telecom only learned of the problem after its own customers began to complain earlier today, Ms Jalfon says.

A Singtel spokeswoman answered NBR's call, but asked for questions by email, then passed the buck to a France Telecom Orange manager, who has yet to reply (France Telecom Orange and China Telecom lead the consortium of carriers that own the Singtel-managed cable).

Vocus boss: Telecom taking the long road
Vocus CEO James Spenceley told NBR his company does manage Yahoo's bandwidth out of Australia, but added that "Telecom choose not to peer with us".

Because there was no peering (or network interconnection arrangement) Telecom traffic took a circuitous route to Yahoo in Sydney, taking in the Singapore to Perth detour with the apparently cut cable.

Vocus was literally out of the loop in terms of the technical problem Telecom was experiencing with Sea-Me-We-3.

More by Chris Keall

Comments and questions

More Telecom NZ outsourcing. Fail. Why can't they be like many other ISPs in NZ and host email here?

This is nothing to do with the hosting of emails but the delivery of it, which routes through "paths" through the Internet. If the main path is unavailable, the systems need to find alternate paths, just like your postman delivering your mail needs to find another way to get to your mailbox if one road is cut off.

The service from Telecom over the last 3-4 months has been pathetic without having hardware problems. I run a business through the internet and the lack of reliability for emails is costing us.
Looking at the options to change to another provider. is a local NZ company, and an actual person who can help answers the phone if you ring for help! Been using them for about seven years with no issues.

Why anyone would want a Xtra email address I just don't know - leaving aside the multiple failures at the end of last year and again now. Just get a Gmail address. It's better in all respects and always works.

It's nothing to do with email addresses, but Telecom hosting your email account. I use Telecom for broadband (awesome speed in Brightwater) but not for email. They make no money from hosting email accounts - it's just a pain.

Some would seem to agree. Back when Telecom's Australian subsidiary AAPT had a retail division (it was sold in 2010), it offered its customers Gmail rather than Yahoo Mail as a web mail solution. Personally, I prefer a customised domain name - it looks more professional, and there's no fuss if you switch ISPs. Lance Wiggs offers a guide to setting up an email address under your own name here:

James can be smug now, but a year ago Vocus weren't peering in Singapore. They are now but it's a recent development.

The sharks got a bit hungry

Possibly worse than the technical glitch is the apparent operational failing that they needed customers to tell them that their service was broken.

It just looks like Telecom doing things on the cheap again, as they did with the under-specified and under-resourced XT network during Paul Reynold's reign. Many people are happy that there are now practical alternatives to their services. Twenty-five years of monopolist pricing and the faces of their ordinary people earning extraordinary salaries for ordinary performance have spoilt the brand for me forever. Sure, there is a new monopoly on the block, Chorus, but the prime minister will surely have the sense not to allow it to operate unchecked in the market, otherwise he will get zilch uptake on his ultra-fast broadband schemes so critical to his own credibility.

Telecom made the business decision to outsource its email services as there were dedicated email service providers that could supply a better service for less cost.

The company selected was Yahoo!, which provides one of the top five internet email services available.

It looks like a reasonable decision to me.

Not a surprise, even if the cable wasn't cut. I occasionally received a few emails which was sent to me a few months ago. Gmail is good.

We are sending emails to clients this morning and they bounce back from Xtra email servers saying undeliverable, email account has been discontinued. I think the problems run a little deeper than a cut cable! I agree with others, that Telecom needs to take control of the mail servers for their Xtra clients and bring them back to NZ.

This wouldn't be the first time that SingTel has had industrial-strength routing problems. All of my experiences with their international transit services have been negative.

All of this misses the elephant in the room. Australia has some seven cables linking it to the rest of the internet world, and here we have an example of where at least one user (Telecom) doesn't have multiple routes. The impact of this failure on Australia is minimal because they have plenty of alternate routes.
However, apply this to New Zealand, and the consequences are much worse. This failure would be equivalent to a 50% loss of service as we only have two significant cables. While at this point we might not suffer too much from bandwidth constraint, many transactions would suffer from increased latency and hence would fail, especially those in the banking sector.
We would be hardest hit if we lost the Auckland-Hawaii-USA segment, and should be aware that an earthquake or volcano in Auckland could wipe out both cables at once. Right now, the score is Australia 7, NZ 2.
We really need to build a resilient cable network to avoid losing more than a few emails routed by a single provider. This is a national issue, not a Telecom one.

The score may be Aussie 7 NZ 2.

But Australia has 3.5 times more cables than NZ and 5 times the population, so on a per-capita basis NZ has more.

The issue is that to build a resilient cable network costs $$$, which someone has to pay.

Isn't this a domestic peering issue as well. If Telecom (and the other big NZ players) all locally peered, then at least local email does get interchanged.