Vodafone, Spark, Chorus join forces for 'aqua cable' bid to restore telco services to Kaikoura

The earthquake damaged a major fibre optic cable that runs from the top of the South Island, along State Highway 1. Six breaks have been identified.

Vodafone, Spark and Chorus, are working closely together to explore all options to restore services to Kaikoura, the companies said in a joint statement today.

An 'aqua cable' that passes by the Kaikoura Coast might be tapped for bandwidth to compensate for a fibre optic cable running alongside State Highway 1, which has suffered at least six breaks.

If the plan goes ahead, the trio warn it could take months.

The obvious question is: why not add 2degrees to the party?

Chorus spokesman Ian Bonnar tells NBR, "I understand 2degrees has a couple of cell sites in the area but most of the significant infrastructure is shared between Chorus Vodafone and Spark — hence the primary collaboration being between those three parties."

A 2degrees spokeswoman told NBR, "2degrees is part of the Telecommunications Emergency Forum as an infrastructure provider in the Kaikoura area. However, our technical expertise isn’t required on this one because we don’t own or operate the transmission infrastructure/cables being worked on. We are optimistic that this initiative will enable full recovery of mobile and fixed-line services for all operator' customers (including our own) in Kaikoura. However, we are also looking at our own cell site restoration options including digital microwave radio links out of Kaikoura. It’s important to note that 2degrees has its own cell sites, as well as broadband and fixed line services in Kaikoura.  Since yesterday’s quake we have actively worked to restore service to all of our cell sites except the two in Kaikoura."

Sx breaks in major fibre cable
The earthquake damaged a major fibre optic cable that runs from the top of the South Island, along State Highway 1 through Clarence and Kaikoura, to Christchurch, which supports both fixed line and mobile networks, Vodafone, Spark and Chorus say.

Six breaks have been identified along this cable, and the conditions and nature of the damage to the cable and the adjacent State Highway means that restoration work is going to take a considerable amount of time. Repairs may take weeks or possibly months. 

People in the Kaikoura region are likely to experience degraded telecommunications services for an extended period of time, the three companies say.

In order to support the Kaikoura community, residents, and incoming support workers, Vodafone, Spark and Chorus are exploring a range of options to provide temporary connectivity to the Kaikoura township, including microwave backhaul links to mobile cell sites. 

Aqualink cable
A key potential solution being investigated by the three companies is using a Vodafone-owned undersea cable that passes by the coast of Kaikoura and repurpose this cable for temporary connectivity for the township.

Vodafone’s Aqualink cable links the North and South Islands, running from Lyall Bay to Kaikoura and then on to Christchurch. Approximately 50 metres of fibre optic cable needs to be laid to connect Chorus and Spark to Vodafone’s Aqualink Cable. 

This work commences today to establish a diversity link as quickly as possible, the three companies say.. Conditions on the ground will determine the rate of progress but we aim to have this completed in the next 24 hours. 

Once this work is complete, Spark, Chorus and Vodafone will be able to restore most broadband and mobile services for customers in Kaikoura and some surrounding areas.

This potential solution has a range of challenges and is not certain to be successful. However, the three companies expect to have a clearer view on timelines and likelihood of success by the end of today.

Fixed line status

  • While the damage to the fibre cable means Kaikoura is currently isolated, most residents of Kaikoura can call each other on fixed copper lines locally but no calls can be made into or out of Kaikoura.  
  • Emergency calls are currently being monitored and relayed to emergency services via satellite phone.  Residents can also call local services such as police and fire directly.

Vodafone mobile status (including 2degrees via their roaming agreement with Vodafone)

  • Customers in and around Kaikoura, Clarence and Waiau are still experiencing degraded mobile services (two sites are still down).
  • Yesterday afternoon Vodafone technicians successfully installed a temporary microwave backhaul link which has meant some people in the areas of Kaikoura, Hundalee, and Clarence are now able to use voice and text services. 
  • To provide temporary coverage for people in Waiau, Vodafone will be establishing a femtocell over satellite link early this afternoon.

Spark mobile status

  • Customers in and around Kaikoura, Hundalee, Clarence, and Waiau are still experiencing degraded mobile services (a total of 5 cell sites are still down).
  • Yesterday evening, Spark installed a signal booster to the mobile cell site on the Kaikoura peninsula as an interim solution. Spark customers in Kaikoura should now have limited access to the mobile network – in most cases, 2-3 bars of signal. Spark encourages customers to use available signal for calling and texting rather than data. There is ongoing work today to increase the network capacity, so that more Kaikoura residents can use the mobile network.
  • Today, Spark is looking at installing a microwave backhaul link to improve mobile connectivity further. This work should be completed today or tomorrow, and once complete, will provide a good quality 3G and 4G mobile service to the Kaikoura township.
  • While improvement work is taking place, mobile coverage may be interrupted for short periods of time, of around 15-20 minutes.

2degrees update

  • Mobile services to Hanmer Springs and the Hutt Valley have been restored.
  • Kaikoura sites remain impacted as does Epuni in Wellington. 
  • 2degrees techs are working to restore services as soon as possible.  Access into Kaikoura is particularly challenging however.

South Island connectivity
The loss of this east coast cable means that all three providers face challenges as back up connectivity options are reduced, the companies say.

Spark South Island landline and broadband services are currently reliant on the integrity of the Western cable, which runs from Blenheim and Nelson down to Christchurch via Greymouth.

If the Western cable was also damaged, it would seriously degrade connectivity for much of the South Island. To increase protection of this cable, Spark has cancelled permits for any earth works or maintenance along the length of the cable. We also ask for the assistance of New Zealanders who live along the length of the cable to ensure that they protect against any risk of damage.

Vodafone services are currently running on the Aqualink cable. Work is underway for Vodafone and Spark to share capacity on their respective cables, which will ensure each provider has additional resiliency for their networks. 

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1 Comment & Question

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

This raises the question about who owns the backhaul infrastructure and how it is used in the event of emergency that does not put peoples lives at risk.
Spark, Vodafone & Chorus need to be responsible parties that allow all concerned parties to be able to safeguard their customers - else this is only a corporate attempt to win customers on the back of disasters... where is the minister on this opinion?

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