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International and domestic communications were severed due to the damage sustained by the submarine cables connecting Tonga to the rest of the world.

As of the latest update from the government, limited communication has now been made through satellite phones and HF radio. On January 15th, the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano caused a 1.2-meter tsunami that destroyed the main Tonga cable, an 827 km submarine cable connecting the island country to Fiji and international networks and the Tonga domestic cable connecting the islands of Vavaʻu, Lifuka, and Tongatapu.

According to experts, the natural disaster experienced by Tonga was likely the biggest volcanic event recorded since the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. The catastrophe is an undeniable representation of how vital subsea cables are for connectivity as well as how fragile the modern internet is.

Under the current circumstances, fixing this internet plumbing would take time and money — estimating at least four weeks to restore the connections with the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The availability of vessels that are equipped to lay and repair undersea cables is quite limited which is the main issue in this type of situation.

SubCom would be the company responsible for the repair process. To support the communication channel at this crucial time, Jamaican company Digicel has set up an interim system on Tongatapu using a satellite dish that could restore domestic 2G connections.

Meanwhile, efforts to establish a temporary broadband satellite link for Tonga that could be beneficial to the recent outage have been stalled due to a contract dispute. Despite that, Kacific chief executive Christian Patouraux said that it’s ready to provide a full suite of satellite broadband services using its Kacific1 satellite positioned over Tonga if the government gets in touch with them. This is to honor a framework services agreement that was negotiated and signed by Tongan authorities in April 2019.

The colossal volcanic eruption in the Pacific archipelago of Tonga appears to be an eye-opener on how significant subsea cables are to stay connected across borders. As countries like Australia, New Zealand, China, and Japan continuously extend their help for recovery, the Tongan government has declared a state of emergency that will last until February 13, 2022.

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