Burning issues after the SingTel fire

Burning issues after the SingTel fire

CALEB Ho, 32, thought he had all his bases covered when he signed up for two broadband services at home. The business analyst cannot tolerate downtime - even at home.

He does a lot of online research and covers the European time zone from Singapore.

But shockingly, both his SingTel fibre and StarHub cable broadband services went down at the same time two weeks ago.

This was due to the fire at SingTel's Internet exchange building in Bukit Panjang.

The incident took down critical services powered by SingTel across the island.

Banking customers of DBS, UOB and OCBC could not withdraw cash from some ATMs. Singapore Pools' betting services were down. Payment at AXS kiosks could not be processed. Even patient records could not be retrieved at one-third of the polyclinics here.

But the trail of destruction went beyond SingTel's services. Those of other Internet service providers (ISPs) were also affected. Cut off from the Internet were 48,000 commercial and home fibre broadband users - customers of StarHub and M1, not just SingTel.

Mr Ho's SingTel fibre broadband line was cut off for as long as 10 hours. But his StarHub cable broadband did not kick in as a backup. It went dead too.

Diversity of network?

THE huge extent of the damage created by one fire at one telco's facility raises the question: What exactly lies beneath the diversity of ISPs here?

Why was Mr Ho's StarHub cable link affected by the fire? Isn't the cable platform separate from SingTel's infrastructure?

As it turns out, the nation's sole cable network operator StarHub leases fibre links from SingTel for delivering pay-TV services and broadband connectivity to homes.

SingTel's fibre links are part of StarHub's backbone, although the latter's cable network provides the last-mile connection to homes here. Fibre and cable networks are based on different technologies, with the former delivering faster speeds.

Disruption to StarHub's cable TV and cable broadband transmission network was the least expected. Some 23,400 cable TV and 15,000 cable broadband users were also affected by the SingTel fire.

How about OpenNet, the builder of Singapore's ultra-fast fibre broadband network?

It was to be the sole competitor of and viable alternative to SingTel for wholesale Internet links. OpenNet supplies fibre links to StarHub and M1 as well as a host of new broadband entrants like ViewQwest, SuperInternet and MyRepublic.

But all of OpenNet's fibre optic cables are housed in SingTel's underground and in-building ducts. All of OpenNet's nine network centres are also housed within SingTel's Internet exchanges, one of which is in Bukit Panjang.

Internet exchanges are like hubs where fibre links criss-cross to distribute connections to all homes and offices here.

It was later revealed that two-thirds of the 149 burnt fibre-optic cables in Bukit Panjang belong to OpenNet.

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