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Asia must join the Arab caravan to Europe

Asia’s median wholesale price of Internet bandwidth is now more than four-times expensive than Europe’s. In LIRNEasia I have been working with ESCAP to formulate a Eurasian terrestrial cable initiative. The objective is making Asia’s submarine cables highly resilient by adding a meshed transcontinental overland optical fiber network. It will make Asia’s wholesale IP-transit bandwidth cost either at par or lesser than Europe’s. Broadband in Asia, regardless fixed or mobile, will grow like mobile voice.

My study shows that all the Europe-bound submarine cables from Asia and Middle East go through Egypt’s Suez Canal. Instead of exploiting the country’s strategic position, the Egyptian authorities have been difficult for the carriers. TeleGeography said:

Carriers face a different challenge in Egypt. Egypt serves a pivotal role in international connectivity, because all undersea cables between Europe and Asia transit the country. Carriers have been seeking to introduce five undersea cable systems connected to and across Egypt to meet burgeoning capacity requirements in the Middle East, East Africa, and India, but have been delayed for over a year by regulatory problems in Egypt. This has left carriers scrambling to identify alternative routes.

Sunil Tagare has been critical about Egypt. Recently he warned, “Egypt Situation Goes From Bad to Worse.” Nevertheless, everyone felt the heat but the oil-rich Arabs have acted fast. They started building Europe-bound terrestrial links to avoid the Egyptian water. TeleGeography has further said:

A variety of new projects have emerged that seek to provide terrestrial connectivity directly to Middle Eastern countries. In 2010, a consortium of carriers launched the Jeddah-Amman-Damascus-Istanbul (JADI) network, which links Saudi Arabia and Turkey via Jordan and Syria. Another group has plans for the Regional Cable Network (RCN), which will link the U.A.E. to Turkey via Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. The recently-unveiled Europe Persia Express Gateway (EPEG) project hopes to connect Germany to Oman via Russia and Iran by 2012 through a mix of terrestrial and undersea segments. While the planned undersea cables in Egypt will ultimately be completed, the development of new terrestrial options will further enhance the reliability of the global network.

The above stated terrestrial cables (JADI, RCN and EPEG) have, however, left Iraq out. Finally the Qatar-led Gulf Bridge International (GBI) has added huge resilience to its Europe-bound submarine cable system by deploying a terrestrial link across Iraq. And it is the very first international blending of submarine and terrestrial networks in the continent.

I often hear skeptic remarks about terrestrially connecting the “politically unfriendly” countries across Asia. I humbly cite the examples of Reliance, Bharti and Tata terrestrially connecting with China Telecom across Tibet. Now I will be more humble while informing them that Syria, Iran and Iraq (Yes, Iran and Iraq) are building a Europe-bound terrestrial link. Asia must join this Caravan to Europe or slip behind the curve.

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