KT chairman apologizes for chaos, scrambles to contain damage from fire

By Kim Bo-gyung
  • Published : Nov 25, 2018 - 16:06
  • Updated : Nov 25, 2018 - 17:52

Amid efforts to recover from the fire that broke out in the basement of KT’s building in western Seoul, South Korea’s No. 2 mobile carrier on Sunday apologized for the communication chaos caused by the blaze and emphasized its willingness to compensate those affected.

KT Chairman Hwang Chang-gyu and Oh Sung-mok, the chief of KT’s network business division, visited the site of the incident, KT’s base transceiver station located in central Ahyeon-dong, Mapo-gu, and apologized for the inconvenience and damage caused.

“KT will set aside compensation for affected individuals and SMEs after discussing the matter with related government agencies. We will also put together (stringent) measures to prevent a recurrence,” Hwang said.

He added that KT would look into the possibility of sharing networks and equipment with other mobile carrier companies in the future.

KT Chairman Hwang Chang-gyu apologizes for the Saturday fire that broke out at the telecommunication company’s Ahyeon-dong branch during a visit to the site Sunday. Yonhap

The fire, which began in the basement of KT’s building on Saturday morning, was contained after about 10 hours at around 9:30 p.m. The fire at the building that held 168,000 telephone wires and 220 sets of fiber optic cables is estimated to have incurred some 8 billion won ($7 million) in property losses, according to fire authorities.

The incident had a profound impact on the tech-savvy country, immediately disabling telecommunications and credit-card payments that used KT’s communication network across western and central Seoul, including the districts of Seodaemun-gu, Yongsan-gu and Eunpyeong-gu as well as parts of Goyang City in Gyeonggi Province. Among those hit hard by the interruption of services were taxi drivers, convenience stores, restaurants, cash machines and police departments.

“(To ensure a) prompt recovery, we are connecting cables both in and outside the building. We have also dispatched cell on wheels in populous areas for wireless services,” KT said in an official statement.

“Employees wearing safety equipment tried to enter the site, but were prevented from doing so by the fire department due to safety reasons.”

A sign posted on the door of a store in Chungjeongno, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Sunday, states that payments must be made in cash due to network damage caused by the KT fire the day before. Yonhap

It added that 77 percent of the internet cables, 60 percent of the mobile base stations and 50 percent of the corporate internet lines had been repaired as of 9 a.m. Sunday.

Fire authorities said the extent of the damage was still unknown and estimated that a full recovery would take about a week.

To discuss countermeasures, KT and SK Broadband officials attended a government meeting in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, on Sunday morning that also involved the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Korea Communications Commission.

KT said in a text message to its customers that it was “deeply sorry for the inconvenience. We will adopt preventive measures such as safety inspections … to avoid a recurrence.”

Police and fire authorities survey the KT site in Ahyeon-dong, Seoul, where the fire broke out on Saturday, causing massive network damage there and in neighboring regions. Yonhap

Under KT’s terms of service for mobile phone and high-speed internet subscribers, the company is obligated to repay customers if service is disrupted for more than three hours and the customer is not at fault. The normal rate is six times the hourly fee for a monthly basic cellphone plan.

SK Telecom, Korea’s leading mobile operator, voluntarily spent a total of 22 billion won on such compensation in April, excluding policy-based compensation, to repay 73 million customers following a VoLTE server crash that prevented phone calls and text messages for about 2 1/2 hours.

Credit-card companies are also scrambling to prevent further inconvenience and financial losses.

KT affiliate BC Card, as well as Shinhan Card, Samsung Card and Hyundai Card, have allowed payments to be made through ARS at stores affected by the fire.

“Together with value-added network companies we are looking for all possible support methods, including obtaining mobile terminals, to minimize inconvenience,” BC Card said.

KT employees work to repair the network at the company’s branch in Ahyeon-dong, Seoul, Sunday. Yonhap

The unprecedented fire marks the first network error since 2004 to last for more than a day, according to data released by Rep. Yoon Sang-jick of the Liberty Korea Party and Rep. Yoo Seung-hee of the Democratic Party of Korea.

A total 23 network errors were reported since 2004, mostly due to malfunctioning software or hardware.

Experts said the incident should act as a wakeup call for KT, other local mobile carriers and the government to revamp network management and safety protocol as the country plans to commercialize the world’s first 5G services by the end of this year.

By Kim Bo-gyung (