Repair vessel en route to fix Quintillion’s fiberoptic cable
Seven weeks after Quintillion’s fiberoptic cable experienced a catastrophic failure and caused a widespread internet outage in northwestern Alaska from Utqiagvik to Nome, the cable repair vessel Integrity is headed to the site of the cable cut, about 34 miles north of Oliktok Point.
The repair vessel departed from Vancouver on July 25 and is in Alaska waters. It made a stop in Seward before heading to Dutch Harbor and the repair site where it is projected to arrive the second week of August, Quintillion President Mac McHale told the Nugget in a phone call on Tuesday, August 1.
There is no set time frame on the repairs, the ship and crew will determine timing after reaching the location and assessing the damage. The vessel is stopping to load up tools, equipment and personnel for the repair. During the trip Quintillion is constantly monitoring weather and sea ice coverage at the repair site.
McHale said when the vessel is approaching Kotzebue the repair team will assess the ice situation and if ice is too thick in the repair area, the vessel will wait in Kotzebue until it is safe for the operation to proceed.
The procedure for repairing the cable will begin with the seaward location of the breakage. There, the vessel will deploy a remote operating vehicle equipped with cameras and sonars into the water where it will locate the cable and bring it to the surface to be buoyed. Then the vessel will move to the shore side location using the remote operating vehicle to locate that point of breakage and surface it.
Then both points of the cable will be brought on the vessel where the proper testing and repairs will occur. At this point, McHale said the system will be back in operation.
The remote operating vehicle will bring the cable back down to the ocean floor to be retrenched using jets, plows and various other tools. Typically, the cable is buried two to four meters (6.6 to 9.8 feet) below the ocean floor. The repair team will be going for the maximum depth of burial. They also may use concrete revetments on top of the repair area to give additional protection from future events that could damage the cable. According to Quintillion, an ice-scouring event was responsible for the damage to the cable.
McHale gave this general outline of the procedure based off the electronic testing they’ve done on the ice-covered area. It is possible the plan could change once the vessel reaches the location and can fully assess the situation.
“We will do everything possible to create resilience and redundancy,” said McHale.
McHale said the fiberoptic cable has been operating without an outage for five years, but despite best efforts, fiber cuts are inevitable.
The greatest protection will come from a new Quintillion project to build a subsea and terrestrial fiber optic cable ring from Nome to Homer. The project will cost $150 million and is subsidized by a $89 million grant from the federal government, awarded a week after the June 11 outage. The project will create a 1,600-mile network which will establish redundancy and prevent outages like the current one.
The project is in its initial stages and will be built over the next two to three years.
McHale said Quintillion will continue to communicate information on the current fiberoptic cable repairs as the vessel comes closer to the repair point.