Minimum telecoms disruption following 7.1 earthquake

- Monday, January 3, 2011

Minimum telecoms disruption following 7.1 earthquake

Chilean telecommunications networks suffered minimum disruption following Sunday's (Jan 2) magnitude-7.1 earthquake in the south of the country, according to information from telecoms regulator Subtel and operators.

No deaths or damage was reported by national emergency office Onemi, though thousands fled from the coast to higher ground, reminded of the devastating tsunami that hit Chile on February 27, following a magnitude-8.8 earthquake.

Subtel reported no network failures, only some congestion caused by an increase in traffic and some power outages in the Araucania region.

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Subtel head Jorge Atton said in a tweet that "to double network capacity, we have deactivated automatic SMS reception messages."

Andres Wallis, director of corporate affairs for Chile's largest mobile operator, Telefonica, which operates the Movistar brand, reiterated that eliminating SMS automatic messages had been a great help.

"We are very pleased because since the February 27 earthquake, Telefonica has been implementing a campaign encouraging responsible use [of cell phone calls] during moments of crisis. And our customers have been becoming more aware that at those times, it is better to send an SMS rather than try to call, so as to not cause network congestion," Wallis said.

"The main problem that occurs during these situations is not mainly operator network failures (with their cell sites), nor with their services, but with energy cuts," the executive added.

Subtel said Sunday evening that none of the main telcos had any networks out of service, though some were operating on battery power while electricity was being restored in certain areas.

In November, Chile's lower house passed a bill creating a telecommunications reconstruction and emergency plan, under which the government will be able to create an early warning system, and oblige mobile operators to transmit alert messages free of charge and to pay compensation to their subscribers in the event of interruption.

The bill also paves the way for new investment in infrastructure in the country.