Telecom companies quickly cobbled together new telephone and Internet networks on Thursday as Asia began recovering from a Taiwanese earthquake that snapped undersea cables, snarling service across the tech-savvy region.
Less than 48 hours after the powerful quake ruptured the two crucial cables off Taiwan's southern tip, companies from South Korea to Singapore said they managed to partially restore most of their service to millions of customers.
They did it by rerouting traffic through satellites and cables that weren't damaged by the 6.7-magnitude tremor that killed two people.
Four repair ships were sailing to the quake zone, but they weren't expected to arrive until Tuesday, said Lin Jen-hung, vice-general manager of Chunghwa Telecom Co., Taiwan's biggest phone company.
The crews would need to find the fault, survey the conditions and pull up the cables for repair — a job Chunghwa said could take two weeks.
Most international Internet data and voice calls travel as pulses of light through hundreds of undersea fiber optic cables crisscrossing the globe. The cables — clusters of glass fibers enclosed in protective material — are often owned by groups of telecom companies, who share costs and capacity.
"Cables break all over the place, from sharks nibbling, anchors dragged across," said Markus Buchhorn, an information technology expert at Australia National University.
But Buchhorn added the broken cables become a problem if — like in the Taiwanese case — several snap at the same time and there are not immediate backup lines to keep the traffic flowing.
Chunghwa estimated its revenue loss from the earthquake damage at about $3 million. Repairing the cables would cost about $1.53 million, the company said in a filing to the Taiwan Stock Exchange.
The outage reminded stock traders, travelers and online video gamers how addicted they've become to the Internet.
"Many lost the opportunity to make fast money," said Francis Lun, general manager at Fulbright Securities in Hong Kong.
"I haven't experienced anything like this before," Lun added. "We've become too dependent on these optic fibers — a few of them get damaged, and everything collapses."
Online gamer Daniel Lee, 28, said he was suffering in Hong Kong because he couldn't spend his usual eight to 10 hours a day playing games on the Internet.
"Most online games are routed through Taiwan, and now I can't play any of them. I can't contact a lot of people because my e-mail is down. It's a hassle and it's depressing, but I can't do anything about it," said Lee, who's unemployed.
Long lines formed at Hong Kong's airport because the computer system at the check-in counters for Taiwan's China Airlines weren't working.
A woman at the airline's hot line said the computer system had been down since Wednesday afternoon.
"We had to switch to manual services because the system in Taipei was affected by the quake," said the woman, who only gave her surname, Sze. "But all our computers are running normally now."
South Korea's biggest carrier, KT, said more than half of its 92 damaged lines should be fixed by the end of Thursday. One of the company's customers was the Foreign Ministry, which recovered its service.
In Japan, major carriers KDDI Corp. and NTT Communications said most fixed-line telephone services were up and running.
NTT spokeswoman Akiko Suzaki said that a full recovery would require a relaying of undersea cables and could take weeks.
Tim Dillon, senior research director with U.S.-based Current Analysis, which studies the telecom industry, said customers in Asia will have to get used to sluggish service in the next few weeks.
"We have a lot of traffic all going to alternate routings at the same time," Dillon said. "It's obviously going to result in slower speeds and congestion as everyone piles onto the same cable."