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TPG customers face slowdown after "major" submarine cable fault

Thousands of kilometres off the coast of Australia, a major Internet cable fault could be set to cause big problems for TPG customers back home. Worse still, repairs could take more than a month.

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For most of us, replacing a broken cable costs a trip to JB Hi-Fi and a few dollars. For TPG Telecom, a major fault to a 6,900-kilometre long cable will cost a small fortune and a trip to Guam.

TPG customers could face a significant slowdown after one of the Internet service provider's major international submarine cables was hit by a fault over the weekend. The outage was originally expected to take more than a month to fix, but with repair crews already held up on another job, there is no word on when work will be completed.

The problem affects the 6,900-kilometre long PPC-1 cable, which runs between Guam and Sydney, skirting around Papua New Guinea. While TPG says it will reroute traffic via two other international cables -- the Southern Cross and the Australian Japan Cable system -- the outage is a significant blow to one of the ISP's major communications lifelines with Hong Kong, Japan and the US.

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A map showing the path of the PPC-1 cable (in orange) alongside other international cable systems.

Pipe Networks

TPG flagged the "major" incident on Friday night after its Network Operations Centre received multiple alarms for the cable system, indicating it had "lost its payload." As a result, the entire cable has been knocked offline.

In bad news for the engineers tasked with fixing the problem, the so-called "fibre fault" is 4,652 kilometres from Guam and more than 2 kilometres beneath the water's surface.

In its report, TPG said repairs would take "an extended period" and estimated a restoration date of March 7, more than a month after the initial alarm was raised.

However, according to a statement to CNET today, the maintenance ship contracted by TPG to fix submarine cable faults is already held up fixing the Basslink cable system between Victoria and Tasmania.

"As a result of the Basslink repairs, extra delays can be expected and therefore TPG is currently considering other options for a faster repair using an alternative vessel," a spokesperson said. "At this stage TPG is not able to quote exact restoration times."

TPG says all IP traffic has been shifted to other cables as part of its redundancy systems, but that "specific Asian destinations may experience an increase in latency." The company added that it would "further optimise traffic routing over the next few days to minimise customer impact."

But with one of just a few international submarine cables completely out of action, TPG customers could face any number of issues when trying to connect, and gamers may find themselves hitting major speed bumps in trying to connect to their favourite overseas servers.

The issue highlights just how dependent Australia's Internet is on a handful of communication lines, stretching thousands of kilometres across an ocean floor that is itself kilometres deep. The Internet is a series of tubes. And TPG customers have just been reminded that, at the end of the day, those tubes are full of cables.