Chorus, Spark and Vodafone have combined forces as the telecommunications infrastructure providers explore all options to restore services to Kaikoura.
As reported by Reseller News, 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.
Currently, 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.
According to all parties, repairs may take weeks or possibly months.
As a result, those in the Kaikoura region are likely to experience degraded telecommunications services for an extended period of time.
In order to support the Kaikoura community, residents, and incoming support workers, the telcos are “exploring a range of options” to provide temporary connectivity to the Kaikoura township, including microwave backhaul links to mobile cell sites.
“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,” a joint company statement said.
Vodafone’s Aqualink cable links the North and South Islands, running from Lyall Bay to Kaikoura and then on to Christchurch with approximately 50 metres of fibre optic cable needing to be laid to connect Chorus and Spark to the cable.
“This work commences today to establish a diversity link as quickly as possible,” the statement said.
“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, the telcos will be able to restore most broadband and mobile services for customers in Kaikoura and some surrounding areas.
Yet this potential solution has a range of challenges and is not certain to be successful, with the telco expecting 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.
At this stage, emergency calls are currently being monitored and relayed to emergency services via satellite phone, and residents can also call local services such as police and fire directly.
With regards to Vodafone’s mobile status - including 2degrees via roaming agreements - customers in and around Kaikoura, Clarence and Waiau are still experiencing degraded mobile services (two sites are still down).
Following the earthquake, 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 has established a femtocell over satellite link.
From a Spark perspective, cstomers in and around Kaikoura, Hundalee, Clarence, and Waiau are still experiencing degraded mobile services, with a total of five cell sites still down.
On the evening of November 14, Spark installed a signal booster to the mobile cell site on the Kaikoura peninsula as an interim solution.
As a result, Spark customers in Kaikoura should now have limited access to the mobile network - in most cases, two or three bars of signal.
“Spark encourages customers to use available signal for calling and texting rather than data,” a spokesperson added.
“There is ongoing work today to increase the network capacity, so that more Kaikoura residents can use the mobile network.”
In addition, Spark is also installing a microwave backhaul link to improve mobile connectivity further, with work expected to be completed by November 16.
“Once complete, it will provide a good quality 3G and 4G mobile service to the Kaikoura township,” a spokesperson said.
“While improvement work is taking place, mobile coverage may be interrupted for short periods of time, of around 15-20 minutes.”
South Island connectivity
But the loss of this east coast cable means that all three providers face challenges as back up connectivity options are reduced.
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, the telcos said 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,” a spokesperson added.
“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.”