Quintillion’s Arctic Offshore Cable Nearly Repaired
Where the Utqiaġvik shoreline had been frozen solid into late June, stormy weather on August 23 had churned the ocean clear, opening a window for offshore cable repair.
With permits and authorizations in hand and the specialist crew and cable station personnel aboard, the repair vessel IT Integrity was cleared by ice forecasters to proceed around Point Barrow last Friday. The mission is to fix Quintillion’s fiber optic cable at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
All Shipshape after Sea Ice Delays
On June 11, sea ice scouring along the seabed cut the cable approximately 34 miles north of Oliktok Point. It caused the loss of cellphone and internet connectivity in Nome and communities all along the Arctic coast to Utqiaġvik. The cable was buried 13 feet under the ocean floor in water about 90 feet deep, covered by sea ice well into summer.
Ice scouring is not unusual, according to the company, and the ice determined when the cable could be safely spliced back together.
Conditions have improved thanks to wind and waves breaking up the ice earlier this month.
“Whoa! The wind was pushing against me as I was walking toward the edge of the bluff,” says Robin Mongoyak of an evening walk on August 23. “The waves just crashing on the bluffs like surging waves trying to break a wall down! It was an intense night.”
Quintillion retained a dedicated forecasting team analyzing available weather and ice data every day and continues to adjust the plan based on conditions and outlook. The current estimate would restore cable service before September comes.
IT Integrity is owned by Nova Scotia-based IT International Telecom, which is a certified marine network installer. The hull is not strengthened against ice, so the repair effort was weather dependent.
Borough Looks to the Stars
The cable laying ship IT Integrity at dock in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the home of its owner IT International Telecom. The converted offshore supply vessel is officially flagged to Barbados.
While the cable was down, North Slope internet users lost their fiber optic connections. Luckily, a new option became available last November when Starlink, the satellite internet service operated by SpaceX, began offering receivers for residential and business customers.
“The Starlink units deployed in the villages have allowed the North Slope Borough computer network to function as well as Internet traffic,” says Araina Danner, public information officer for the North Slope Borough (NSB).
“Departments that had satellite phones had to locate them and make sure staff were up to date on the use,” she adds. “Many departments switched cellular providers so they would work as one carrier still had satellite in use and while it is slower and more latency they to function.”
AT&T visited Utqiaġvik after a couple of weeks to deploy devices to allow FirstNet cellular traffic to go out across Starlink. “I believe that was for a short period of time, and those were returned to AT&T,” Danner says.
Additionally, she says NSB Search and Rescue should have communications up and running. All villages have their department desk phones working as well as their computers.
Danner doesn’t consider Starlink a commercial-grade replacement, however, and she points out there will be outages. Still, technicians are finding ways to adapt.
“Staff have been able to find a way to get them back online and able to provide the NSB computer network, VoIP phones, and internet,” Danner says.