This is where we complain about how the media covers cable outages.  As everyone probably knows by now, last month one of the two redundant cables to the Norwegian island of Svalbard suffered an outage.

This was followed by legions of media stories that ranged from inaccurate to apocalyptic that dominated the industry news until the outage caused by the Tonga volcano a little more than a week later took over the headlines.  To this day (February 8), a Google news search of “submarine cable” will find that three of the first seven stories will be about the Svalbard outage, with two of them having the word “sabotage” in the headline.  Many of the headlines refer to communications to Svalbard being completely cut of, even though it was a redundant system. 

At SubCableWorld, we took a different route and only ran the press release from Space Norway, which operates the cables.  While their release did not include the material to make a shocking story title, it carefully explained that the system was built in a way that anticipated such an outage and communications to and from Svalbard were never disrupted. 

As news from Tonga and PTC came in, the Svalbard cable was pushed off the front page, but we went back to Space Norway’s website to find out what was happening.  Sure enough, there was the following press release from January 19:

Space Norway AS owns the fiber optic cable between Svalbard and mainland Norway. The cable is a key element of Norway’s infrastructure in the Arctic and provides broadband telecom services both to the civil society and the science and space activities at Svalbard. Since Friday January 7th, 2022, the system has been operating without the full specified redundancy. As of January 18th, 2022, this redundancy is restored.

The Svalbard fiber system is built as a fully redundant solution with two cables separated approximately 5-10 km on the seabed. The redundancy ensures continued operations if one of the two connections fails to function. At 04:10 CET on Friday January 7th, 2022, one of the two connections experienced a failure. This failure did not in any way change the ability to communicate effectively with Svalbard in the same manner as before, but it represented a temporary lack of redundancy.

The analysis of the failure indicated a shunt failure in the cable causing loss of power to some of the signal repeaters. Through a work around applying alternate power supply to the damaged cable, the redundancy was restored during the evening of January 18th, 2022. This minimizes the operating risk until final cable repair can be performed probably in the February 2022 timeframe, depending on the availability of cable vessel and the necessary weather conditions.

The lesson here is that a shunt fault does not make as good a headline as sabotage and this release did not get a lot of play in the media.  A word of thanks to Space Norway for handling the outage so professionally.