SingTel says fibre network remains robust amid criticism

SingTel's nationwide fibre network remains robust, and its contingency plans meet international standards, the telco said yesterday, as it sought to quell criticism in the wake of the outages caused by last week's fire.

The telco's chief executive of the consumer division here, Mr Yuen Kuan Moon, revealed that even more households could have been affected if not for the redundancies built into its network.

Cables at its Bukit Panjang Internet exchange, where the fire occurred, are connected to two segments of the network - the nation's fibre backbone and to customers.

While the fire damaged a key connection to its fibre backbone, the telco managed to re-route most of the traffic to several of its eight other central exchange centres, leaving customers in other parts of the island unaffected, Mr Yuen explained. The re-routing also helped the telco restore 95 per cent of the connections within 36 hours, he added.

And because the blaze affected only one of three sets of cables, "less than half of the north-west region of Singapore served by the Bukit Panjang facility was impacted by the fire", Mr Yuen told The Straits Times in an interview. "We don't put all our eggs in one basket."

When asked why such a significant number of customers were affected, Mr Yuen would only say it was "impractical" to replicate a second set of connections to homes and businesses.

Many questions remain unanswered. The cause of the fire is still being investigated, he said.

The fact that the fire burned for 20 minutes before being put out by the Singapore Civil Defence Force has raised doubts about whether the fire suppression system at the exchange worked properly.

When a fire breaks out in such a facility, an inert gas is usually first released to kill the flames, explained Mr Benjamin Tan, managing director of Internet service provider SuperInternet. Sprinklers are activated only if the gas does not snuff out the flames.

"Most sprinklers are checked regularly. I'd be surprised if they didn't kick in," he said.

Mr Yuen would only say that this is one of the areas the telco is already looking at improving. It has also commissioned an internal inquiry.

"It's very important for us to learn from this particular incident and improve from here," he said.

DERRICK HO