Bangladesh badly needs a second submarine cable for steady supply of international telecoms connectivity. The second cable is also critical to efficiently serve the cross-border customers. That’s the strategic significance SEA-ME-WE 5, the sequel of SEA-ME-WE 4 submarine cable, for Bangladesh. The new cable has been timely ashore but plugging it to the country’s telecoms networks remains uncertain. Multiple state-owned telecoms outfits, historically inefficient and corrupt, hinder the domestic transmission works of SEA-ME-WE 5.
State-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunication (MPT) is a member of the prehistoric SEA-ME-WE3 and very recent SEA-ME-WE5 submarine cable consortiums. MPT also shares the landing facilities with China Unicom, which brings a branch of Asia Africa Europe-1 (AAE-1) cable to the country. This is how the incumbent has secured the landing of two contemporary submarine cable systems. The government has also injected competition and licensed the Singapore-based Campana Group to build the Myanmar-Thailand International Connection (MYTHIC) submarine cable. Last year Campana has contracted Alcatel-Lucent to build the 1,600km MYTHIC cable, equipped with 100Gbps technology for an initial design capacity of 20Tbps.
India is the point of transit for every submarine cable connecting Asia with Africa and Europe via Middle East. Altogether 19 submarine cables have landed in five different Indian locations: Mumbai (11 cables), Chennai (4 cables), Cochin (2 cables), Trivandrum (1 cable) and Tuticorine (1 cable). These sparsely located landing points are good enough to make India the home of a highly resilient international connectivity. Early this week Cyclone Vardah has, however, exposed India’s, notably of Bharti Airtel’s, fragility instead. Bharti Airtel has stakes in five submarine cable networks: i2i, SEA-ME-WE 4, EIG, I-ME-WE and AAG.
There is no shortcut to universal access of broadband. Very distinct four segments of broadband supply chain are to be addressed in a synchronized fashion. They are: International connectivity, domestic connectivity, metro networks and access networks. We have detected international connectivity being the ‘Achille’s Heel’ in Asia’s broadband value chain. Our research has prompted the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) to adopt Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS).
Myanmar is the rising star in global telecoms market and anything new hits the headlines. Bharti Airtel’s claim of activating a terrestrial optical fiber cable link between India and Myanmar is one such example. An undisclosed sum has been reportedly invested in a 6,500rkm (route km) terrestrial link. It will be connected to Airtel’s landing stations in Chennai and Mumbai. Ajay Chitkara, the company’s director & CEO (global voice & data business) told the Economic Times: ‘The terrestrial cable link is a strategic fibre asset for Airtel in the SAARC region, which will enable the company to offer robust end-to-end connectivity solutions in Myanmar, which is seeing rapid uptake of digital services as one of the last growth frontiers in Asia.
Government dictates the rate of international calls being terminated in Bangladesh. And it is always way above the hyper-competitive international wholesale voice rate. The regulator also takes away 40 per cent of the gross international revenue. Both the elements have been strongly incentivizing illegal bypass. Moreover, the international gateway (IGW) operators have been allowed to form a cartel named International Gateway Operators Forum (IOF).
Iraq has engaged Cisco to build a terrestrial optical network up to Turkey. Dubbed as “The Iraqi National Backbone” it will reach most major Iraqi cities. It will be available to the public as the new official internet service provider (ISP) for Iraq. The new network is an alternative to existing submarine networks that reached the Middle East from Europe either via the Suez Canal, or by a longer route around the Horn of Africa. It will offer the highest capacity and lowest latency of any Europe-Middle East communications solution.
Bangladesh is emerging as an important player in regional connectivity. Recently it has connected Northeast India to faster lane of Internet through a 10 Gbps international link of its submarine cable systems. It has prompted the landlocked Bhutan to be in the cue. Currently a Bhutanese telecoms delegate is negotiating a 5 Gbps international internet bandwidth deal with their Bangladeshi counterpart. Terrestrial transit through India is critical for Bhutan to access the submarine cable facilities of Bangladesh, says a press report.
India is finally plugging the mainland with Port Blair and five other islands (Little Andaman, Car Nicobar, Havelock, Kamorta and Great Nicobar) of the Andaman and Nicobar though an undersea optical fiber cable systems. Taxpayers will count $150 million (INR 1,102.38 crore) for capex and initial five years opex of this maiden sub-oceanic telecoms initiative for the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. This cable from Chennai will be activated in 2018 while its capacity and ownership remain unannounced. Home of about 380,000 people, including the indigenous Jarawa, the archipelago is about 1,300 km east in the Bay of Bengal.
We thought that long distance carriers would be the primary beneficiaries of Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS). That was way back in 2010 and six years is long enough to radically transform telecoms in this century. Now the Internet companies and content providers are outperforming the baffled carriers in every front. That is what I presented in the 2nd Working Group Meeting of AP-IS at Guangzhou early this week. Image source.
Increasing presence of the global stalwarts in Yangon is evident in Chatrium Hotel (thumbnail). It’s just a snapshot of the bigger picture. Such multinationals are to be in touch with their home offices through secured enterprise solutions like MPLS. Therefore, after the meteoric rise of its teledensity, Myanmar must change its course towards enterprise. The government has published its Spectrum Roadmap in early April.
“Either we disrupt or we get disrupted,” warned Cisco’s outgoing CEO John Chambers in his last speech to the industry last year. He also said that 40% of companies will be dead in 10 years. “If I’m not making you sweat, I should be,” Chambers quipped. He was referring to the rising tide of innovation that breaches the dyke of comfort zone where conventional verticals reside. Less than a year after Chambers’ keynote, GSMA has reported how the mobile industry has failed to secure a sizable share from $3.
Every phone call, text message, email and Internet traffic to and from Nepal transits via India. But not anymore. State-owned Nepal Telecom has completed the laying of optical fiber at the Sino-Nepal border. It paves the way to terrestrially link Kathmandu with the Hong Kong data center of China Telecom. Besides, Nepal will remain connected with Singapore trough the existing terrestrial and submarine networks of India.
Multinet Pakistan, an Axiata company, and state-owned Omantel are deploying a new subsea cable system, dubbed Silk Route Gateway (SRG-1). It will have two pairs of fiber with a design capacity of 10 Tbps each. The system will be commercially launched by the end of 2017. The SRG-1 will stretch over one thousand kilometers between Muscat and Karachi, with a planned extension to link the newly built deep-sea port at Gwadar (Pakistan). That will make it the country’s first submarine cable with double landing stations.
Bangladesh 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.
Our quest for laying optical fiber along the 143,000 kilometers of Asian Highway dates back to 2011. The objective is to liberate Asia’s increasingly digitized cross-border economy from exclusive dependency of submarine cables. Blending the overland and undersea telecoms infrastructure to solidify the continent’s competitive edge has been central to our mission. Thankfully the ESCAP, which fosters Asian Highway, has listened to us. Now it leads the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) initiative.