The obvious connection between Nepal and New Zealand aside, the two countries have something else in common: deadly earthquakes.

Thousands of people were killed and injured in the 2015 Nepal earthquake, and millions were left homeless. Damage to property and infrastructure was extensive, and it's quite amazing how much has been restored in less than three years in the capital of Kathmandu, although the scars are still there.

Not being a wealthy country, Nepal faced an uphill struggle to rebuild.

Getting communications networks up and running was a priority, and these copped quite some damage in the quake due to how they'd been built, local internet operators Gaurab Raj Upadhaya, Binay Bohra and Indiver Badal told me.


Most of the fibre-optic circuits in Kathmandu were aerial and got pulled down as houses were destroyed in the quake and pulled down power and communications poles around the city, Binay explained. As anyone who's seen the rat's nests that are Kathmandu's overhead cabling, it's as chaotic as in many other Asian cities.

Restoring it would have been hugely difficult, and Binay said newer areas use improved cable management that should be not only more resilient to quake damage, but easier to restore if they're impacted.

Another issue was finding qualified techies and engineers who could work on restoring services.

If you're Nepalese and good at IT and networking, chances are you'll head off overseas to earn much better money than is possibly locally. When the quake struck, it was difficult to find good people who could help out, Gaurab said.

Where should the effort to restore communications be focused though?

Gaurab was in Singapore when the quake struck, and tried desperately to get hold of family, friends and others to see if they were all right.

Nepal's internet links, and the data centres they landed in, survived the quake so Internet Protocol (IP) packets could make it in and out of the country. Gaurab found to his surprise that while people went offline as the batteries in their phones died due to lack of power, they could be found with communications programs like Facebook Messenger.

Yes, Facebook Messenger, which is IP-based. The internet can indeed route around damage, and "over the top" instant messaging apps turned out to be very resilient. This makes sense as their servers are in multiple countries, and data can take many different routes to reach their intended recipients.


Furthermore, the apps can be used on many different devices, as they're not tied to any single one like a phone account is. Gaurab said that even when the person he tried to get hold of didn't answer, he could see the person was there, thanks to Messenger's "active" notifications that showed they were present.

Getting communications up and running quickly after a natural disaster is hugely important for successful recovery, and the Nepal experience points to getting IP networks going rather than phone ones being key. That is, network links that can transmit and receive any old traffic to and from wherever, with lots of route diversity. Like the internet was meant to be, and the reason it became the world's largest ever general-purpose network.

Juha Saarinen travelled to Kathmandu as a guest of APNIC.