Bangladesh has abundant international Internet bandwidth while Bhutan generates surplus electricity. Newly appointed Bhutan’s Ambassador to Dhaka, Pema Choden, has expressed interest in importing surplus bandwidth from Bangladesh. In that meeting, the State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam also showed interest in Bhutan’s plentiful electricity to meet the growing energy demand of Bangladesh. Both the neighbors are now poised to be the friend in mutual needs.
Bangladesh currently consumes only 40Gbps of its 200Gbps capacity of the SEA-ME-WE 4 submarine cable. Landlocked Bhutan primarily relies on India and secondarily on China for global connectivity (click on the thumbnail of China Mobile map above). The Himalayan kingdom pays a lot to reach the nearest IP-transit hubs at Mumbai and Kunming. Dollars per Mbps per kilometer per month keeps the wholesale prices of IP-transit exorbitant across the developing Asia. Landlocked Bhutan is one of the worst victims. It will cost her far lesser if the intended 24 Gbps of IP-Transit bandwidth is forked from Dhaka.
Infrastructure is the critical component of connectivity between Bangladesh and Bhutan. The ADB-funded cross-border optical fiber terrestrial network under South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Information Highway Project is being considered to link both the countries. This network is intended to loop Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. Capacity of SASEC network remains undisclosed while its quality is to be tested in future. Details of the construction and management agreement (C&MA) are also yet to be made public. Identical initiative of ADB in Southeast Asia has not achieved its objectives.
Therefore, Bangladesh and Bhutan should explore a viable alternative. The power transmission grid, which would link Bangladesh with Bhutan, can be the best option to simultaneously energize and digitize both the countries. The Bhutan-Bangladesh power grid, inherently fitted with optical ground ware (OPGW), will traverse across Assam. This infrastructure will bring power to Bangladesh and it will simultaneously carry the IP-Transit bandwidth back to Bhutan.
This solution will also add significant resilience to the proposed terrestrial cross-border optical fiber link that Bangladesh will deploy across her eastern border to serve the neighboring states of India. The Bhutan-Bangladesh power grid will act as the second supply line to the currently negotiated IP-Transit deal for northeast India. Therefore, India also greatly benefits from the right of way it grants to proposed power transmission deal between Bangladesh and Bhutan.
That is the beauty of regional cooperation. Political goodwill is, however, the fundamental prerequisite to rip extraordinary benefits out of such very ordinary engineering scheme.