Bluesky hit for ‘millions’

Friday November 03, 2017 Written by Published in Local
Bluesky has been dealing with a steady stream of customer enquiries following the fire which destroyed its Aroa cell site last Friday. 17110243 Bluesky has been dealing with a steady stream of customer enquiries following the fire which destroyed its Aroa cell site last Friday. 17110243

The cost of restoring landline, mobile and internet services to the parts of Rarotonga affected by last Friday’s fire at Bluesky’s Aroa cell site will run “into the millions”, says the company’s country manager, Phill Henderson.


The cause of the devastating blaze, which brought mobile networks down on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki and cut landline and broadband services some locations, is not yet known.

However, Henderson says the blaze, which left some customers without telecommunications services for up to six days, has come at a huge cost.

“We are working through the value of the assets destroyed and the revenue impact. It will be in the millions,” he said yesterday.

Henderson added that there were always lessons to be learned from events like Friday’s fire, and any rebuild of the system would include more modern fire prevention systems.

“We will also consider a geo-redundant core mobile core as we have for the other services. When the original core was built, geo-redundancy was extremely expensive for a network of our size and not feasible. Technology has moved on since and this could now be an option.” (Note: Geo redundancy replicates services in a separate physical location in case one site fails).

Asked how much the fire had affected company revenue so far, Henderson said Bluesky would have a better idea next week as it continued to work on the mobile service, which at present uses a temporary “work-around” solution via Samoa, and is free to customers.

“The mobile network is a major source of revenue, as with any modern telco, and this is hurting us.”

Henderson said all of the company’s technical staff had been involved in the response effort, including three mobile technicians, three satellite technicians and two next generation network technicians. As well as this, a field force team of 17 had been working on diverting the fibre cable and the more challenging job of diverting750 copper pairs from the old site to the new site, as well as maintaining normal services.

“Our facilities team of three has also been involved in securing the sites, and providing more hands in the field. Other staff have been pitching in to prepare meals and refreshments for the teams that have been working the longer hours.”

The initial response effort had involved all local engineering resources with support from Bluesky Samoa and technology partners from Huawei and O3b, Henderson said.

“(At the time of the fire), Bluesky Cook Islands mobile manager Donald Munro was in Samoa undergoing training and was able to work with the Samoa team to expedite the recovery of the mobile service.

“By Monday a Bluesky Group IP engineer was on the ground to assist with rerouting traffic paths to Samoa to establish restricted mobile service, as well as a O3B engineer to assist in determining short and long term equipment requirements for restoring the O3b terminal at Aroa.

“As we enter in the restoration phase we will have more engineers on the ground from the technology vendors to assist with the rebuild.”

 Henderson said the initial restoration work had involved reconfiguring systems, signalling paths and setting up new satellite links to create new connections.

“This was conducted from our normal operations centre. Once we moved to the physical work this was mainly conducted at our Aroa cell site hut, where we installed a new distribution frame and equipment rack.

“The distribution frame will accommodate the 750 copper pairs that have been redirected from the old site and equipment to enable the restoration of the fibre ring and broadband customers who were physically connected to the old site.

 “Over the weekend the field teams were in pairs around the Aroa site area physically regrouping and diverting the copper distribution cables to the new site. Most of the manpower would have been seen working in the Aroa cellsite.”

Henderson said restoration of services to customers who were physically connected to the Aroa site by copper cable had taken longer than expected.

“We have had to divert many pairs of copper cable to the new site. This has required many hands and taken longer than expected. This was compounded by the wet weather, requiring the team to take extra care when exposing joints in wet weather.”

This week’s wet weather had affected the physical work that Bluesky’s field force team had been doing involving diverting the copper cables, he added.

“The other issue is, we are currently running on one O3B site, so we are more susceptible to rain outages. Running two sites, as we have been since April this year, rain outages are unlikely apart from when there is extremely heavy rain on both sides of the island at the same time.

Commercial manager Lahaina Kiely said most of Bluesky’s customers had been understanding and sympathetic about what had happened. 

“Many have been impressed on how we have been able to restore services very quickly considering the amount of damage that occurred. 

“Our 123 service has had the usual number of calls coming through over the weekend as many people were updated via social media, new articles and the Saturday information booth at the market. We have noticed an increase in customers at the main office to purchase and use wifi.” 

Kiely said the last couple of days had seen a noticeable increase in calls to the Bluesky service desk.

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