Tonga, the South Pacific archipelago nation (with 169 islands), was reconnected to the Internet this early morning (UTC) and is back online after successful repairs to the undersea cable that was damaged on Saturday, January 15, 2022, by the January 14, volcanic eruption.
After 38 days without full access to the Internet, Cloudflare Radar shows that a little after midnight (UTC) — it was around 13:00 local time — on February 22, 2022, Internet traffic in Tonga started to increase to levels similar to those seen before the eruption.
The faded line shows what was normal in Tonga at the start of the year, and the dark blue line shows the evolution of traffic in the last 30 days. Digicel, Tonga’s main ISP announced at 02:13 UTC that “data connectivity has been restored on the main island Tongatapu and Eua after undersea submarine cable repairs”.
When we expand the view to the previous 45 days, we can see more clearly how Internet traffic evolved before the volcanic eruption and after the undersea cable was repaired.
The repair ship Reliance took 20 days to replace a 92 km (57 mile) section of the 827 km submarine fiber optical cable that connects Tonga to Fiji and international networks and had “multiple faults and breaks due to the volcanic eruption”, according to Digicel.
Tonga Cable chief executive James Panuve told Reuters that people on the main island "will have access almost immediately", and that was what we saw on Radar with a large increase in traffic persisting.
The residual traffic we saw from Tonga a few days after January 15, 2022, comes from satellite services that were used with difficulty by some businesses.
James Panuve also highlighted that the undersea work is still being finished to repair the domestic cable connecting the main island of Tongatapu with outlying islands that were worst hit by the tsunami, which, he told Reuters, could take six to nine months more.
So, for some of the people who live on the 36 inhabited islands, normal use of the Internet could take a lot longer. Tonga has a population of around 105,000, 70% of whom reside on the main island, Tongatapu and around 5% (5,000) live on the nearby island of Eua (now also connected to the Internet).
Telecommunication companies in neighboring Pacific islands, particularly New Caledonia, provided lengths of cable when Tonga ran out, said Panuve.
A world of undersea cables for the world’s communications
We have mentioned before, for example in our first blog post about the Tonga outage, how undersea cables are important to global Internet traffic that is mostly carried by a complex network that connects countries and continents.
The full submarine cable system (the first communications cables laid were from the 1850s and carried telegraphy traffic) is what makes most of the world’s Internet function between countries and continents. There are 428 active submarine cables (36 are planned), running to an estimated 1.3 million km around the globe.
The reliability of submarine Internet is high, especially when multiple paths are available in the event of a cable break. That wasn't the case for the Tonga outage, given that the 827 km submarine cable only connects Fiji to the Tonga archipelago — Fiji is connected to the main Southern Cross Cable, as the next image illustrates.
In a recent conversation on a Cloudflare TV segment we discussed the importance of undersea cables with Tom Paseka, Network Strategist who is celebrating 10 years at Cloudflare and worked previously for undersea cable companies in Australia. Here’s a clip: