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Cox’s Bazar is India’s third gateway. Kuakata is next.

BSCCL BSNLBangladesh simultaneously exports and imports Internet bandwidth to and from India. Its geographic location and state of international connectivity have contributed to this interesting scenario.

The first submarine cable (SEA-ME-WE4) was landed at Cox’s Bazar in 2005. This facility of Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company (BSCCL) has dramatically improved the country’s overall international connectivity. Yet, the industry remained nervous about outages due to maintenance or accidental snapping of SEA-ME-WE4.

Diversifying the international connectivity through cross-border links with India became imperative. Accordingly six private outfits have rerouted Bangladesh via Kolkata across the western border in 2012. It keeps Bangladesh on line during the outages of SEA-ME-WE4.

Yet the Internet service providers (ISPs) of Bangladesh struggle with slower Indian bandwidth. The neighbors’ undersea cables land mostly at Chennai and Mumbai. Thereafter the bandwidth is transmitted to Kolkata through underground optical fiber transmission systems. Finally it is exported to Bangladesh through terrestrial cross-border links.

This process, however, confronts various impediments. Highly protected Indian domestic long distance segment suffers from investment deficiency. Draconian regulations regarding right-of-way have further aggravated India’s digital backwardness. That is why Bangladesh ends up receiving degraded quality of international bandwidth from India.

Bangladeshi ISPs are eager for SEA-ME-WE5, the second submarine cable. It lands at Kuakata, the southwestern coastal village, this year. Kuakata is 300 nautical miles away from Cox’s Bazar. The two vastly located undersea cable landing facilities will bolster the country’s international connectivity. They will also salvage Bangladeshi ISPs from the Indian carriers’ oligopoly.

These issues have prompted Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), India’s state-owned carrier, to import international bandwidth from Bangladesh to digitize Tripura and other northeastern states. Under a deal signed in June 2015, BSNL annually pays BSCCL Tk.96 million (US$1.2 million) for 10 Gbps of international bandwidth. India will quadruple its bandwidth intake from Bangladesh in near future.

Underground optical fiber link from Cox’s Bazar to BSNL’s Agartala node via Akhaura was commissioned in November 2015. BSCCL began exporting bandwidth on a trial basis from early February of 2016. BSNL could, however, consume only 30 per cent of imported bandwidth due to lack of readiness in its northeast Indian networks. As a result, the Indian operator has decided to divert the bandwidth from Bangladesh where its network is ready.

Since April 11, 2016 BSNL pumps imported bandwidth from Agartala to Kolkata via Shillong and Siliguri. Doug Madory, Director of Internet Analysis at Dyn, has detected that about 50 routes from BSNL in Kolkata goes through Cox’s Bazar to reach the global Internet (Click on the picture above). He further found that BSCCL has replaced Telia, Tata, Bharti and Vodafon to become the only international bandwidth supplier of BSNL in West Bengal.

This is how Cox’s Bazar is now the de facto third telecoms gateway of India.

BSNL, like the Bangladeshi ISPs, remains vulnerable to the exclusive dependency on SEA-ME-WE4 submarine cable until the SEA-ME-WE5 activates this year. The Cox’s Bazar to Agartala via Akhaura terrestrial link also keeps BSNL’s broadband supply chain fragile.

Therefore, the Indian state-owned ISP should connect more nodes with Bangladesh across the West Bengal, Assam and Mehgalaya borders. These facilities will bolster BSNL’s international connectivity with unprecedented quality and speed once SEA-ME-WE5 lands at Kuakata. That will make this southwestern town of Bangladesh the fourth international telecoms gateway of India.

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