Internet users in Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the cusp of a technological leap with the imminent switching-on of the Manatua Cable.
As reported in Cook Islands News last month, the two islands are now connected via a spur of the Manatua cable, but all international connectivity to Cook Islands remains through O3B’s satellite system.
Commercial negotiations between industry stakeholders are in their final stages, and once completed, the switch will be made from satellite to cable – feeding Rarotonga and Aitutaki with a surge in bandwidth.
Yet, along with major improvements to connectivity expected with the cable comes a significant vulnerability - what happens if the cable breaks?
Fortunately, Rarotonga is located roughly in the middle of the cable, which runs between Tahiti to the west and Apia, Samoa to the east.
That means if one section ever experienced a cut, Rarotonga could stay connected by receiving bandwidth from the other end.
Ranulf Scarbrough of Avaroa Cable Ltd – the local operator of Manatua Cable and wholesale internet provider – said because of the east to west routing of the cable, 90 per cent of the system is resilient to a potential break or cut - even though some portions of the cable lie at a depth of five kilometres on the ocean floor.
“It is the most reliable known communications technology,” Scarbrough said.
For Phillip Henderson, chief executive of Vodafone Cook Islands, the prospect of cable disruption warrants the company’s attention.
And if needed, the company has O3B satellite as a backup to keep its customers connected.
“Typically when a cable is cut or interrupted … restoration can take weeks,” Henderson said.
“So it would be prudent to have some form of redundancy in the event of a cable interruption.”
Internet outages due to cable breaks or cuts are more common than generally thought, Henderson said.
In 2008, as series of cable breaks in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf caused widespread internet disruptions and slowdowns for users in the Middle East and India.
Two years ago, the nation of Mauritania in Northwest Africa was left without internet access for almost two days after an undersea cable was unintentionally cut. It is believed the cable was severed by a fishing trawler.
Ranulf Scarborough said his team in Rarotonga are equipped with the necessary hardware to deal with any damages to the cable on land.
If the cut were to occur in deep waters, a cable repair ship would be required and would involve hauling both ends of the cable to the surface for repairs.