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Telco networks resilient through the quake

Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees all report their mobile networks in Christchurch are up and running, albeit with some towers still on back-up power. Customers are no longer being asked to stick to voice or txt. In fact, bar four 2degrees towers briefly bei

Chris Keall
Tue, 07 Sep 2010

Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees all report their mobile networks in Christchurch are up and running, albeit with some towers still on back-up power.

Customers are no longer being asked to stick to voice or txt.

In fact, bar four 2degrees towers briefly being out of commission, the three carriers’ networks barely skipped a beat on Saturday, tripping onto battery systems as Orion shut down power across Canterbury (as of late yesterday, some sites are still on generators or batteries).

That’s no mean feat. Back-up systems that look good on paper don’t always work so well in reality - especially when a large scale disaster hits.

Notably, Telecom’s infamous XT radio network controllers (RNCs) in the city - which earlier this year caused so much grief for those south of Taupo - were unscathed (though it’s not actually that much of a surprise; like Telecom exchanges, also unharmed, they were heavily earthquake-proofed).

ABOVE: No points for civic art, but this generator is keeping a Chorus roadside cabinet running. (Photo via @juhasaarinen.)

Fixed lines - the cordless phone lesson
Telecom’s network division, Chorus, reports that its fixed line network is stable for voice calls and broadband.

Indeed, home lines remained active throughout the crisis, in areas where cable wasn’t damaged. The limiting factor for many was their cordless phone - which, unlike older corded models, needs AC power (lesson: it pays to have a corded model in the cupboard; you can still buy them and they’re as cheap as chips).

Chorus now has enough generators to run all of its roadside cabinets still affected by power outages, but it still expects a steep rise in faults, with the extent of damage to cables and other infrastructure still to be accessed. Core services are being prioritised, and 100 additional staff have been flown in from around the country.

Television and radio
Kordia said its major broadcast facility in Christchurch - the 121m tall Sugarloaf Communications Tower and transmission building on top of the Port Hills - was unaffected, and its network around the South Island undamaged. It was focussing its efforts on helping other providers.

Enable Networks: all-clear
Steve Fuller, chief executive of the Christchurch council-backed fibre specialist Enable Networks told NBR this morning:

"Enable's network has held up 100% with no reported faults.

"Both core Ethernet sites were unaffected and all customer circuits restored service when power was returned. There are no reported fibre or structural faults as of yet and network inspections continue."

A contender for the local Crown fibre contract, Enable supplies broadband over fibre to around 80 Christchurch schools, among other customers.

TelstraClear: some cable TV, broadband problems
Around 900 TelstraClear cable customers (our of a total 26,000) are still without TV, broadband and internet services, spokesman David Courtney told NBR this morning.

The main cause of the problem is lack of power to part of the company's HFC (hybrid fibre-coax) network. 

"In limited areas, there is damage to the power poles carrying our equipment," Mr Courtney said.

Beyond those affected by HFC issues, "there may be other customers without services as [connections] to individual properties may be disrupted not because of network problems, but because of damage to these properties," Mr Courtney said.

TelstraClear's fixed-line voice and data network is fully operational for business and consumer customers.

"Damage to our core network to the north of Christchurch was identified and repaired at the weekend. Further work will be done at this site to
make the repairs permanent," Mr Courtney said.

Emergency calling
One newspaper report described the 111 emergency calling system as being overloaded by a Telecom fault on Saturday morning, between 9am and 10am.

Speaking to NBR, Telecom senior manager Chris Quin took umbrage at the report.

After consulting with police (who handle the service on behalf of the fire and ambulance systems), his company was aware of only a single 111 call that failed to get through

Business services
Mr Quin, who heads Telecom’s Gen-i Australasia services division, said his company had five offices in Christchurch - four within the CBD cordon.

But while the buildings have been given the all-clear, the Telecom exec has closed them until at least Thursday, citing bigger issues.

He had been planning to visit the city yesterday, but postponed the trip because staff were just too rattled.

“I don’t know how anyone could work when there are aftershocks happening through the day,” Mr Quin said.

About 20 staff who were single or otherwise unencumbered had been redeployed to Telecom operations in Wellington, Hamilton or Auckland, which are able to take up the slack in the short-term.

Others had been given leave to sort out their homes and look after their families, Mr Quin said.

Chris Keall
Tue, 07 Sep 2010
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Telco networks resilient through the quake