Cyclone Amphan disrupts internet connectivity

BT restores its data services after almost 17 hours of blackout

Younten Tshedup

While cyclone Amphan passed without much destruction, the past two days has exposed how vulnerable the country’s communication network is during times of disasters.

Among others, a major disruption resulting from the cyclone in the neighbouring West Bengal was on the country’s internet connectivity.

Bhutan Telecom’s (BT) data service suffered a complete outage towards the evening on May 20, until late afternoon yesterday. BT managed to reestablish the link between 11pm and 1:45am on Wednesday.

BT’s chief executive officer, Karma Jurme said that both the Phuentsholing and Gelephu links were down after fibre cables in Kolkata were damaged due to the impact of the cyclone.

He said that while BT tried to establish a network redundancy by having two internet providers – Tata and Airtel, the two links had a convergence point in Kolkata.  “We are working with our partners in India to restore the network as soon as possible.  We are hopeful to have the services back online by afternoon today.”

The data service was reestablished by 4pm yesterday.

TashiCell suffered some glitches in its data service as two of its three internet links were also damaged in Kolkata. However, there was no complete internet outage for TashiCell users.

TashiCell’s general manager with the network and carrier services department, Ganga R Sharma said that the two links from Tata entering from Gelephu and Phuentsholing were damaged by cyclone Amphan. The Airtel link in Phuentsholing was still functional as of yesterday.

He said that given the extreme weather condition in Kolkata, to prevent further damage to the distribution equipment, the Power Grid Corporation of India decided that all the power grids (power transmission towers) through which the internet fibre runs, were to be shutdown.

When the forced shutdown was carried out in Kolkata, it took out the internet connectivity which included the two links in Gelephu and Phuentsholing that runs on the power grid, he said, adding that unlike the two links, the Airtel link in Phuentsholing was running on its on fibre and was not affected by the forced shutdown.

“Although we did not suffer a total blackout, we were affected. Since we have only one functional link for now, we are operating at 40 percent of our total capacity,” he said. “The link is congested and therefore, users will experience a slower internet connectivity.”

Ganga R Sharma said that while they are working with their partners to restore the links, given the extensive damage and the risks from the proceeding cyclone, immediate restoration was difficult.

Whole restoration would take a few days, but he said that the Indian partners have said that there would be some sort of “good connectivity” by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, BT’s CEO said that the long awaited third international internet gateway from Bangladesh would provide Bhutan a better geographical redundancy in an event of similar emergencies.

However, Ganga R Sharma said that the impact of the cyclone would have been there even if the Bangladesh internet link was in place. “The current cyclone is affecting all West Bengal and Guwahati areas including Bangladesh.”

He said that given Bhutan’s geographical location, it has no other option but to depend on the Indian partners. “While we have control over things within the country, when it comes to internet, we have to depend on our partners outside.”

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