The submarine fiber optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world was severed during a volcanic eruption.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it may take more than a month to repair damage to the 49,889km (31,000 miles) long cable that serves the South Pacific.

The eruption of the seabed followed by the tsunami cause 110,000 Tongans cut off.

2G wireless connections have been established on the main island, using satellite dishes from the University of the South Pacific. But the service was disorganized, and the internet service was running slow.

How will the cable repaired?

The cable, operated by Tonga Cable, is believed to have broken about 37km (23 miles) offshore.

According to Reuters, the fault search conducted by the company after the volcano seemed to confirm a cable break. The process of repairing it is actually quite simple, according to lead engineer at Virgin Media, Peter Jamieson, who is also vice chairman of the European Submarine Cable Association.

“They will send a pulse of light from the island and the machine will measure how long it takes to travel and this will determine where the break is,” he explained. Then the cable repair boat will be sent to the first break location.

It will use either an ROV (a remotely operated underwater vehicle) or a tool known as a grapnel (basically a hook on a chain) to recover the broken end.

That will be reconnected to the new cable on the boat and then the same process will take place at the other end of the break. If all goes well, the whole process will take between five and seven days.

How important is this cable?

In the West, if one cable breaks it is not a problem, because there are many more. The UK, for example, has about 50 cables that transmit data to the country.

In Tonga, there is only one. “Ideally you have at least two cables as a minimum,” Mr. Jamieson said. “But cable is expensive and there is no drive for Facebook, Google or anyone else to build it there.”

Worldwide there are an estimated more than 430 cables, spanning a distance of 1.3 million km (800,000 miles).

After disconnecting the cable earlier in 2019 from the ship’s anchor, Tonga signed a 15-year agreement to secure satellite connections. But the use of satellite phones has been affected by the volcanic ash engulfing the country. Some people have reported that they can only dial out and not receive calls.

Due to its cost, the use of satellite phones is limited to government officials, and some businesses.

Mobile network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on the main island of Tongatapu, using South Pacific University satellite dishes to provide limited 2G coverage.

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