Torn apart, missing 110km domestic fibre optic cable may take year to replace

UPDATED MAR. 3: Tonga’s domestic fibre optic telecommunications cable was torn apart by tremendous forces and deeply buried under volcanic debris on the ocean floor. It may take up to a year to fix.

Up to 110km of a special cable may have to be manufactured in France and delivered, if Tonga Cable Ltd. can’t source a spare cable of the same type from anyone in the world who holds a spare.

“Unfortunately, the domestic cable break will be with us for several more months,” said Tonga Cable Ltd CEO, James Panuve, yesterday, saying it would be safe to bet on a year.

The cable ship Reliance departed the cable site Monday morning, after successfully recovering both ends of the domestic cable.

He said the south end of the broken cable was found 31km from Tongatapu and the north end was located about 136km from Tongatapu. There is gap of around 110km between the two broken ends.

“It has attempted to recover the middle section but it appears that the cable has been deeply buried under debris from the volcano eruption of 15 January. Without proper survey equipment it is hard to tell what has happened to the cable system.  Water depth in this area is between 1.6 to 1.8km.”

Need up to 110km of special cable

He said the ship will provide Tonga Cable Ltd. with a more detailed report on their findings, “but we estimate that we are looking at needing up to 110km of this submarine cable before we can repair the damage to the domestic system. 

“The other problem is that this cable type is not easily sourced and none of our neighbouring cable operators have any of this cable type. We are looking worldwide for anyone with spare cable of this type, failing which, we will need to order it from Alcatel in France, which could take 6-9 months to manufacture and deliver.

“But as with most things, I think it would be safe to bet on a year,” James told Matangi Tonga

Seabed research needed

The seabed around the Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha’apai (HTHH) volcano changed dramatically during the eruptions, and the domestic cable was laid close to it. Tonga might have to rethink whether it’s safe to lay a new cable in the same place. James hopes some proposed research of the seabed will go ahead.

“We have been contacted by a group known as the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) who are interested in sending a research vessel to do a survey of the HTHH area and our cable system to see what the seabed looks like after the devastating volcano eruption of 15 January.

“This may be of great assistance for Tonga Cable in understanding what happened to our two cable systems and possibly whether it is safe to relay our domestic cable on its original path. If successful, the research vessel may be visiting our waters in March or April of this year.”

International Cable

James also expressed his gratitude to the neighbouring cable operators in the region who helped Tonga repair the break in its international cable between Fiji and Tonga.

“Although the repair time was a bit longer than what we had originally anticipated, considering the amount of damage caused to our international cable we are lucky to have had it repaired by 22 February. 

“Some cable operators reached out to us to offer their assistance and we also had to ask some of them to lend us some of their spares, which were stored on the cable repair ship, Reliance. 

“Without their generosity and support, our international cable would not have been repaired and Tonga would still be without our normal internet speed. The assistance from the following three companies is greatly acknowledged:

  • OPT-NC  New Caledonia, 59km of fibre optic cable
  • Interchange Limited, Vanuatu, 8 repair kits
  • Southern Cross Cable Network, Australia/New Zealand, 3 repair kits.

He said, “Tonga Cable will have to replace or reimburse these three cable companies for the spares that we utilised in our repair job.”

However, James added in an update on Mar. 3, that Southern Cross Cable Network had contacted him and said that, “in the spirit of South Pacific cooperation, we would like to give you those three spare repair kits and therefore do not need them replaced or repaid.”

So at the moment James said that Tonga Cable is only able to provide international connectivity to Tongatapu.

“Through TCC and Digicel, this connectivity extends to ‘Eua and the surrounding small islands around Tongatapu.

“Tonga Cable is still not able to provide connectivity through its submarine cable on the domestic system which links Tongatapu to Ha‘apai and Vava‘u. As such, connectivity to the Ha‘apai and Vava’u groups are through Digicel’s and TCC’s own microwave and satellite links,” he said.

Demand for bandwidth is almost back to normal.

“We’ve noticed a 3% dip in utlisation since the cable was damaged on 15 Jan.  However, we expected a bigger dip in traffic than this, given that our domestic cable is still damaged.”

This article was First published on “Matangi Tonga Online.” Here’s the link to the original article.

TCL and ASN signed a Contract for the Domestic Cable

After the successful launching of the Tonga – Fiji submarine fibre optic cable, the Government of Tonga approved the extension of the cable system to outer island groups of Vava’u and Ha’apai. Tonga Cable Limited was given the task of the implementation of this project. The main objective was to provide fast, reliable, economical and efficient communication system for the people in these two island groups.


On 17 February 2017, Tonga Cable Limited was able to fulfill the above direction by signing an agreement with Alcatel Submarine Networks (a French simplified stock corporation having its registered office at 148/152, route de la Reine – 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt – France) to design, manufacture, deliver, install and commission a repeaterless fibre optic cable system between Nuku’alofa and Vava’u with branching unit and spur for Ha’apai.


Alcatel Submarine Networks was selected to make sure that technology and equipment will be provided are compatible with the existing system. The project is expected to be completed in one year.

Press Release – 20th August

TongaIX, Free-Wifi at Ports, TCL Cloud and Retail Services and 50% Discount on Wholesale Price


Collaboration among stakeholders i.e. Ministry of Public Enterprise (MPE), Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC), Tonga Communication Corporation (TCC), Digicel Tonga Limited (DTL), The University of the South Pacific (USP) and Tonga Cable Ltd (TCL) guaranteed the successful completion of TongaIX, Free-Internet-Wifi at Ports and 50% discount on Internet capacity wholesale price.


TongaIX is an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) and it was successfully implemented in August 2018. It is a physical infrastructure that enables both TCC and DTL to exchange Internet traffic between their networks by means of mutual peering agreement, which generally allow traffic to be exchanged without cost.

Peering on an IXP can improve network performance (shorter paths), improve reliability (multiple paths to destinations) and reduce cost.

Free-Wifi at Ports:

The Free-Internet-Wifi at Ports was an initiative driven by MPE and it allows travelers and tourists to get 30mins of free internet via both TCC and DTL Wifi Access Points at Ports. This project was completed for Fua’amotu Airport and Vuna Wharf in June 2018 and to be implemented for Vava’u, Ha’apai and ‘Eua in the near future.

TCL Cloud and Retail Services:

Due to the “Share Purchase Agreement” between DTL and the Tongan Government, TCL had to cease the “Provision of Retail Services”. After a series of negotiations, DTL changed its official position to allow TCL to provide both retail service providers with a wholesale hardware business model whereby TCL provide wholesale access to retail service by providing both DTL and TCC on an equal access with non-discriminatory basis using a revenue share business model for retail services in June 2018.

Wholesale 50% discount:

It was part of MEIDECC mandate as the Regulator to ensure there is reduction of Internet tariff from all Service Providers. Consequently, in March 2018 the TCL Board of Directors approved to double current Internet capacity to both service providers i.e. TCC and DTL, but on the existing wholesale price. In reality TCL dropped Internet capacity wholesale price by 50% and by far the cheapest in the Pacific. The Amendment to Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) was finalized and forwarded to the Regulator i.e. MEIDECC in March 2018. The same initiative was offered to USP under the discount rate for Educational Institutions and was finalized in May 2018