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Asia Is Back Online After Quakes, But Access Is Patchy

Telecommunications across Asia were slowly being restored Thursday after earthquakes off Taiwan damaged cables and knocked thousands offline, but access in parts of South Korea and Taiwan was still patchy.

Most of Asia's telephone traffic was restored while Internet access in many countries had also improved, a day after businesses and home users from Seoul to Sydney were hit by one of the most widespread tech disruptions in Asia.

South Korea's top fixed-line and broadband operator KT Corp. said six submarine cables owned by a consortium of telecoms firms had been disconnected on Wednesday, knocking out thousands of telephone and broadband connections.

KT Corp. restored most of the telephone services but broadband services for some clients, including banks and the country's foreign ministry, remained unavailable. "As of late Wednesday, we were told that broadband services to 32 clients were affected," a KT spokesman said on Thursday. Local media reported that 36 foreign bank branches in South Korea had been affected.

KT and other regional operators have warned that fixing all of the affected cables could take at least a few weeks and are working to find ways to run the traffic through other live lines.

But business in the tech-savvy region appeared little disrupted, with stock markets slightly higher or unchanged on Wednesday amid lackluster trade ahead of the New Year holidays.

In Taiwan, some telephone services had been restored, although international access was shaky, and early morning Internet access also appeared to be working normally. Foreign exchange dealers said trading services were also back to normal.

Singapore's central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said trading on Wednesday had been conducted over telephone instead of the e-bond platform. "Trading volume is typically low this time of the year, but dealers noted that market liquidity is readily available if they need to transact," a spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.

Analysts said the disruption highlighted the fact that the most of the region's cable networks are running in the same direction, along earthquake-prone geographic lines. "People will start to say we can't let this happen again," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Washington DC-based telecoms consultancy Communications Networks. "The issue here is parallelism, you've really got to have multiple paths. You can't lay all the cables in the same place."

Dzubeck added that the Internet bust in 2001 had hit expensive plans by various companies to lay undersea cables along new paths that were less likely to be affected by earthquakes.

Diverted Traffic

A big number of Fortune 500 firms in financial center Singapore were affected by the disruption on Wednesday, with Internet access completely down or slowing to a crawl. "It's getting better because more traffic is being diverted to other cables right now," said a spokesman at StarHub, Singapore's second-largest telecoms firm.

Chia Boon Chong, spokesman at Singapore Telecommunications, Southeast Asia's top phone company also said services were progressively being restored, and that it was working very closely with the submarine cable consortium members.

Malaysia's dominant phone company, Telekom Malaysia, said it was also working closely with other Asian telecoms firms to repair the damaged submarine cables. "International call services to countries including Taiwan, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Korea and the U.S. have been affected," Telekom Malaysia said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Citibank Korea, which lost almost all of its international services on Wednesday such as intranet and phone banking, restored most services later in the day, a spokeswoman said.