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KT unveils comprehensive system to prevent network fires

Sept. 4, 2019 - 16:11 By Yeo Jun-suk
Last November, when a fire broke out in the basement of a KT building in the Ahyeon neighborhood of central Seoul, those living in the country’s most wired city discovered how fragile their telecommunication system could be.

Not only did residents find themselves unable to make calls or access the internet, but they were also restricted from using credit cards. An emergency room at a major hospital had to close temporarily as diagnosis data was shut down. Full recovery works took about a week.

Following about a year of public scrutiny over what steps should be taken to prevent similar catastrophes in the future, KT has introduced a series of measures aimed at improving the safety of underground cable networks in the event of a fire accident.

KT Chairman Hwang Chang-gyu (second from right) examines a rail-type robot named “死Fire” (pronounced sa-fire, with “sa” stylized in the Chinese character meaning “to kill”) operating on 5G, which detects and puts out fires. It was installed for a test run at KT’s OSP Innovation Center in Daejeon on Wednesday. The telecom company expects to commercialize the robot in two to three years. (Yonhap)

“The Ahyeon fire accident gave us an opportunity to realize the value of cable network infrastructure,” KT chief Hwang Chang-gyu said during a press conference Wednesday at KT Network Innovation Center in Daejeon.
“I believe our complacency left an indelible wound on citizens. In order to prevent the same mistakes in the future, we will muster our every capability to transform the network system and ensure public safety.”

According to KT, its previous fire detection system had limitations in promptly responding to an emergency in a broad area. This mostly stemmed from the lack of sensors and machines to detect anomalies in underground cable networks.

The new detection system, powered by artificial intelligence and cloud computing technology, can make up for such shortfalls, KT stressed. Dubbed “Cable Tunnel Temperature Remote Sensing,” the system can detect slight temperature increases -- even by 0.1 degree Celsius within a half-meter parameter.

If an anomaly is detected by the system, a remote-controlled microrobot named “死Fire” -- pronounced sa-fire, with “sa” stylized in the Chinese character meaning “to kill” -- is deployed deep into the underground cable tunnels.

Traveling through rails along the cables, the robot uses infrared cameras to identify whether there was a fire and extinguish it before a fire crew even arrives.

“The robots are mainly designed to pinpoint exaction locations for a fire accident,” said KT Executive Oh Seong-mok, who leads the network business at KT. “They can get close enough to the scene and find out what exactly happened.”

Outside of advanced fire-detecting sensors and robots, KT also introduced other systems to prevent power outages. Among them are technologies to detect how much telecom poles are tilted and whether manholes are flooded.

The fire detection and response system is buttressed by a cloud-based telecom management infrastructure system called “Atacama.” Starting from late this month, the system will conduct real-time monitoring of KT’s cable tunnels and related facilities, the company said.

According to KT, the total length of cable tunnels installed nationwide stretch as much as 286 kilometers. The company said it will complete safety tests on each cable tunnel to ensure smooth network connection with switch centers.

“Given that the cable tunnels have different characteristics depending on areas, we are going to apply the Atacama system in a phased manner,” said Oh. “Starting from big cities, the application will expand nationwide.”

By Yeo Jun-suk (