KT is near 90% after fire, though limited outages could last a week

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KT is near 90% after fire, though limited outages could last a week


Fire fighters on Sunday conducting forensics investigation in determining the fire that happened at KT’s switching center in Ahyeon-dong, Seoul, on Saturday morning. [YONHAP]

KT’s telecommunications switching center at Ahyeon-dong, Mapo District, Seoul will be under repair for another week following a fire at the facility on Saturday morning. Customers are expected to face continued service disruptions until work at the site is complete.

Landline and mobile calls, internet service, credit card processing and IPTV could be affected during that time. This comes after a weekend of low-grade chaos in certain areas, with some people scurrying around to find pay phones, while others were unable to buy medicine or get on public transportation.

KT Chairman Hwang Chang-gyu, who visited the damaged site, said the company will offer compensation to the individual subscribers and small business owners who have faced disruption. He also promised to make efforts to ensure the future stability of the network.

“KT will actively cooperate with the fire department,” explained Hwang, “in determining the cause of the fire. By analyzing the results we will come up with plans including safety inspections of all of our communication facilities nationwide so that this will not happen again.”

According to KT, 60 percent of the mobile network and 77 percent of the internet lines were restored as of 11 a.m. on Sunday. The company said it expects 90 percent of service will be restored by Sunday night.

It added that it will work diligently to minimize future inconveniences.

The fire, which was reported to have started in the basement cable tunnel, was extinguished around 9:30 p.m. Saturday, 10 hours after it initially broke out. Property damage is estimated at around 8 billion won ($7 million). As the source of the blaze is located deep within the basement, it is expected to take more than a week before the entire system is fully operational.

KT said some of its employees tried to restore the system Saturday evening. They were equipped with safety equipment, including gas masks, but were denied access to the damaged area by fire authorities over safety concerns.

The fire, which broke out at 11 a.m. Saturday, directly affected the Seodaemun, Jung, Mapo and Yongsan districts. It also partially affected the neighboring Eunpyeong District, with outages extending as far as Goyang, Gyeonggi.

Due to the fire, high-speed internet, internet TV and phone services were lost. People living in the four districts in Seoul weren’t able to make calls, card processing machines went dead and many had trouble getting on public transportation that use near field communication (NFC) systems.

“I was late to a meeting with a friend and tried to make a call,” said a 26-year-old at Chungjeongro Station. “I was looking for the public phone booth, but didn’t know where it was.”

Convenience stores and a cafe near the KT branch office posted signs on Saturday saying that they were only accepting cash.

“I don’t carry cash as I use the Kakao Pay” mobile payment app, said Kim Yu-jin, 30. “I can’t even get on a bus or a subway because my transportation card runs on NFC.”

Some drivers struggled because their internet-connected navigation systems were down as the result of the fire.

“I was passing through Hapjeong on my way to a wedding in Gwanghwamun, but my navigation system went down,” said Sung Ki-dong, 33. “And I couldn’t call people to ask for directions, so I had to use the old way of following the street signs.”

Patients weren’t able to get prescription medications as the internet at some drug stores went down. Meanwhile, restaurant owners were having trouble securing the necessary ingredients as they weren’t able to place calls.

People delivering food for services that rely on KT internet were forced to take a day off as their food delivery apps had gone out.

Minister of Science and ICT You Young-min visited the KT branch on Sunday and asked if KT would be able to restore credit card services for small businesses by the end of Sunday.

The three telecommunication companies -- SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ -- “need to swiftly change their contract clauses on compensation issues and also need to come up with plans that would reroute traffic if such accidents, which shouldn’t happen again, happen,” You said.

Traffic should automatically reroute when outages occur, but due to the Ahyeon building’s location in the city and its role within the network, the necessary shifting of traffic did not occur, KT said.

BY LEE HO-JEONG, KIM JEE-HEE, JO SO-HEE [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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