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Satellite Operators Restore Critical Communications to Tonga After Volcanic Eruption

By Rachel Jewett | January 21, 2022

Main port facilities in Tonga after the eruption and tsunami. Photo: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies.

Satellite operators and service providers Speedcast, Intelsat, and SES worked to restore emergency communications in Tonga after the recent volcanic eruption and tsunami. 

The undersea volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai erupted on Jan. 15 near the island in the South Pacific. The volcanic explosion caused a tsunami that knocked out the undersea internet cables that keep the island connected. This left about 100,000 citizens of the island’s capital city of Nuku’alofa, and the outer islands, without communication. 

Speedcast said it was able to restore service within days, supported by regional temas and remote engineering expertise. This provided connectivity for the island’s major banking services. 

Intelsat deployed emergency communication services working with Telstra and Spark for mobile network operator Digicel Tonga and Tonga Communications Corporation. Intelsat is providing broadband connectivity on Horizons 3e and Intelsat 18 and Telstra and Spark are providing the ground infrastructure, including VSAT hubs at their teleports, uplink, internet access, and remote kits. The services are now operational. 

Intelsat is also providing services with Optus to the New Zealand Defence Force which is providing humanitarian support in Tonga.

SES also worked with Digicel, reporting international calls were made on Wednesday, with both SES and Digicel teams working on restoring more vital communications services in the coming days.

“With satellite partners such as SES, we have been able to establish international calls for our customers as soon as possible, and will increase capacity to provide more services in the next few days. We know how vital it is at times like this to keep people connected. We take that responsibility very seriously and are focused on doing everything we can to ensure people are able to communicate with their loved ones in these difficult times,” said Digicel Tonga CEO Anthony Seuseu.

Reuters reported that restoring full internet connectivity via undersea internet cables is likely to take a month or more.