The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in January had severed the submarine Tonga Cable, leaving the island nation reliant on satellites for international communications

The new year did not start on a positive note for Tonga, with the submerged Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupting with more force than an atomic bomb, according to NASA.
The eruption caused tsunamis throughout the Pacific, leading to at least five fatalities and causing almost $100 million in damage.
Naturally, such an enormous natural disaster had an immediate impact on local submarine cable infrastructure, with a large portion of the 827km Tonga Cable damaged, leaving the country largely without international communications.
Emergency satellite connectivity was quickly deployed, but these proved of limited use in the early days after the explosion due to the amount of ash cast up into the atmosphere. 
Now, over a month since the cable first went offline, Digicel Tonga have confirmed that the international section of the cable is functional once again and connectivity has been restored, having left the country offline for 38 days.
 "We had some capacity via satellite but nothing compared to what we’re having right now with the cable being reconnected," said Tonga Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni. "It was a major task, given the amount of damage, and we thought it would be fixed a week ago.”
Initial appraisals for the damaged cable expected it to be back online by February 10, but poor weather conditions and the damage being more severe than expected presented a significant setback. 
SubCom’s cable ship Reliance performed the repairs, reportedly adding around 92km of cable to reconnect the cable. Some of the severed sections of the cable could be recovered and reconnected relatively easily, but a section of roughly 55km could not be located at all. 
“We suspect it’s buried in an avalanche,” said James Panuve, CEO of Tonga Cable.
While this news means that Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu can now reconnect to the international community, the cable repairs are far from over. Domestic portions of the cable, Tongatapu to some of the outer islands, were much closer to the initial explosion and remain heavily damaged, with repairs to these sections potentially taking many months.
Nonetheless, the reactivation of the main body of the Tonga Cable should present some relief to these smaller islands by allowing satellite capacity previously serving the main island to be reallocated to the rest of the archipelago.
This disaster has thrown Tonga’s reliance on a single submarine cable into sharp relief, with authorities now questioning whether backup connectivity to the island is sufficient. 
The procurement of a backup cable would, of course, be the method of choice, but this is prohibitively expensive and is unlikely to materialise without major support from the governments of major economic players in the region, like Australia and New Zealand. 
Therefore, even greater reliance on satellite could be required in future. Earlier this month, Elon Musk’s SpaceX was reportedly at work in neighbouring Fiji to establish a Starlink Gateway, helping to provide the region with faster, more reliable connectivity. The company has reportedly donated 50 satellite terminals directly to the Tongan government to help plug the gaps while the domestic sections of the cable are repaired.
“Elon Musk has given some satellite capacity, it is very fast and the MEIDECC are deciding who and where that will be placed,” said Panuve.
Is the submarine cable community adequately prepared for natural disasters? Find out how the experts are planning new cable routes at this year’s live Submarine Networks EMEA conference 
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