Why Important Submarine Cables Break and How to Repair Them

Why Important Submarine Cables Break and How to Repair Them

important submarine cablesThe idea that the internet literally connects our world’s continents by cables across our ocean floors is amazing, but what happens when these important submarine cables are severed?

Most individuals rely on the internet for communication and information updates. When we lose our lines of connection it can be detrimental for society. One of the most important submarine cables running from Perth, Australia to Singapore, Asia and up to Europe has recently been cut. How does this happen? How do submarine cables get repaired? Can we prevent this from happening?

How Submarine Cables Break

The Perth to Singapore cable did not just stop working out of the blue. iiNEt, an Australian internet service provider, had reported that two of the links, or repeaters, in the cable had been signaling an issue for the company for a while. Other carriers that utilize the same cable had not reported any issues in latency or congestion. Meaning whatever happened to the cable must be very minimal to affect only a percentage of users. Not knowing how the cable was disrupted can also delay the repair process.

Unfortunately, there are a number of ways in which something can go wrong with an important submarine cable that stretches between continents.

  • An earthquake can break the connection
  • Human interference with fishing vessels or ship anchors can snag a cable
  • Sea creatures, such as sharks, have been known to attack the cables perhaps thinking it is a threat or food, but generally, do little damage
  • Equipment can also fail on its own, however, this is very uncommon

Important submarine cables do have a certain amount of video monitoring, but the issues do not always align with the monitoring equipment to be captured. There are various reasons why a cable can be disrupted. The essential goal is working quickly to repair these cables and minimize downtime.

Repairing Important Submarine Cables

(Image Credit: Yannick Le Bris – Image Source: Wired.co.uk)

Being able to locate the area of misfunction, physically preparing it, and restoration testing of submarine cables can take weeks. There are four steps in the repair process.

  1. Locating the disruption
  2. Gathering a repair crew and vessel
  3. Prepping the cable for repairs
  4. The physical repair processes

Locating the issue takes a series of tests. One of the tests involves light pulses being sent along the fibers in a cable and testing which ones reach their destination properly. If a transmission is lost on a specific fiber, that is where the issue lies. After the disruption is pinpointed, a cable repair ship will be sent to those coordinates with properly operating fiber-optic lines. The cables need to be properly prepped to minimize disruption as much as possible for users. Depending on the depth of the laid cable, the crew can send a robot to cut the broken cable and replace it with fresh fibers. However, if the cable is laid extremely deep, the robot will be unable to perform its duties due to the high pressure. In these cases, the ship will have to use a hook and grapple to literally pull the heavy cable up and onto the ship for repairs. Fortunately, most cable manufacturing companies have up to 125 years’ experience in reparations.

Protecting Our Cables

Companies must be proactive to ensure connectivity is not disrupted. In disaster-prone areas, it is essential that communication is delivered promptly. Blackburn Networks has designed a stronger cable network that can withstand various weather events. In hurricane-prone Puerto Rico, Blackburn Networks has developed a fiber optic cable system to reinforce the existing submarine cables in the areas. Reinforcing cables and constant equipment testing is the best way to minimize downtimes in the future and protect our important submarine cables.

GeoTel Communications is the world’s leading provider in submarine cable location-based data. Contact us today to learn more!

Author: Valerie Stephen

Valerie Stephen
valeriestephen@geo-tel.com