A wakeup callThe fire at KT’s switching center in Ahyeon-dong, Seoul, shook the capital city last weekend. The accident not only caused serious problems for citizens in some parts of the city, but also raised fundamental questions for “super-linked” Korean society.
The blaze, which took place at the branch of the public company, burned 168,000 telephone lines and 220 sets of fiber-optic cables. Though it was controlled after 10 hours, it is expected to take at least a week to restore the damaged infrastructure.
As a result of the inferno, KT subscribers in districts of Seodaemun, Mapo, Yongsan and Eunpyeong all experienced inconveniences as a result of the outages. Some people even had to stand in line to use public telephone booths to make calls, while others had to pay cash in restaurants and stores.
That’s not all. Due to the malfunctioning of phone lines, police and hospitals had to deal with emergencies. Even some national defense staff could not connect with the military after internal and external lines were cut off. Last weekend’s incident was a national security wakeup call.
The fire has also dealt a critical blow to our economy. Customers could not use their credit cards and store owners could not receive orders by phone. Mom and pop stores do not know how to make up for their losses.
Management of the cable tunnels was in disarray. The communications tunnel in question had only a couple of fire extinguishers and lacked sprinklers. Though underground tunnels — with electrical and communication cables as well as water and sewer pipes — are administered by the state, communication lines are handled by their owners.
The branch office of KT also did not disperse its communications equipment despite being a location with a high concentration of communication lines.
Korea prides itself as an IT powerhouse. It kicks off 5G services from next month, a first in the world. Its IT-based fourth industrial revolution is ongoing. But the accident clearly shows how unprepared we are. What if a massive communications disturbance takes place when self-driving cars have become a new norm?
We have experienced problems like this several times. Despite that, our infrastructure still has serious deficiencies. If the accident had occurred at a major financial institution or at a government facility, a national disaster could have been the result.
KT must fix the problem quickly, and the authorities must overhaul our communications infrastructure.