Somalia has suffered internet outage, as its only submarine cable – Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASSy) – has been snapped by the anchor of a cargo ship recently. Few affluent users are online through the expensive satellite backups while most of the users remain off-line. Bangladesh was also exposed to similar risk until six operators plugged the country with India across the land borders in 2012. Mogadishu should rush for overland links with Kenya for the resilience of its international connectivity. Otherwise, it will remain vulnerable to frequent outages because of the careless merchant mariners.
At the end of a conference celebrating 20 years of BIMSTEC and 100 of Chulalongkorn University, I was on a panel that was tasked with identifying priorities for the organization. Given there were seven panelists each proposing three priorities and some more suggestions coming up from the audience, there was then a need to develop a rule to rank them. I proposed that we ask what tasks could only be done by a plurilateral organization and give those priority. For example, lowering of non-tariff barriers affecting simple trade in goods could be done bilaterally or even unilaterally. But creating the conditions for global production networks could not be done bilaterally.
It was almost seven years ago that Under Secretary General Noeleen Hayzer opened the door for our conversation on how to lower what we paid for Internet in Asia with ESCAP. Now we have a formal resolution: At the 73rd Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) member countries expressed support to developing seamless regional broadband connectivity, by adopting the resolution titled “Implementation of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative through regional cooperation”. The resolution was presented by Bangladesh, co-sponsored by China, Fiji, Islamic Republic of Iran, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and Thailand. ESCAP member States recognized that access to information and communications technology (ICT) are fundamental to reducing the digital divide, alleviating poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other internationally agreed development goals in Asia and the Pacific. For us, this is good, but symbolic.
While the aviation sector is “Trying to make sense of the new TSA electronics ban” – the submarine cable industry is sending an SOS. The Trump administration may ban the usage of any ship that deploys or maintains the submarine cables, unless it is built in a U.S. shipyard. It also mandates that minimum 75% of the crew are to be the U.
Little over a year ago, I wrote about various infrastructure initiatives linking South Asia with Central Asia. Using the gas pipelines’, power grid’s and road networks’ right-of-way of for cross-border telecoms link was central to my arguments. Now the Indian Railways has planned to create a network, dubbed as ITI-DKD-Y corridor, to operate freight train service over a stretch of 6,000 kilometers. It will connect Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey through railway tracks, according to the Indian Express. Indian Railways has called South Asian railway heads involved in the project to work out the nitty-gritty at a high-level meeting on March 15-16.
The countries in mainland Asia are mostly interconnected through submarine cables. Public and private incumbents abuse their ownership of submarine cable systems followed by hindering competition in wholesale bandwidth sales. As a result, Asia remains impaired by the lack of cross-border Internet connectivity and exorbitant bandwidth prices. Hong Kong and Singapore are the only carrier-neutral wholesale capacity hubs in Asia. Yet, their prices are higher than the corresponding European and North American outlets.
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.
Our lead on international backhaul, Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan, has been talking about data centers along with fiber cables for some time. Here is the back story, as explained by APNIC’s Geoff Huston. The original motivation of the exchange was to group together a set of comparable local access providers to allow them to directly peer with each other. The exchange circumvented paying the transit providers to perform this cross-connect, and as long as there was a sizeable proportion of local traffic exchange, then exchanges filled a real need in replacing a proportion of the transit provider’s role with a local switching function. However, exchange operators quickly realised that if they also included data centre services at the exchange then the local exchange participants saw an increased volume of user traffic that could be provided at the exchange, and this increased the relative importance of the exchange.
A four-minute clip recorded immediately after my keynote at APNIC 42 is now out. Sound quality is much much better than in the talk and, with the help of good editing, I seem to get the key points out in less than five minutes. The APNIC video.
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.
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’ve been pushing for greater policy attention to international backhaul markets since 2010. Haven’t said as much on domestic backhaul, but we have talked about that as a constraint as well. Good to have the FCC Chair on our side. Supplying backhaul is a profitable activity for the largest carriers in the US, notably AT&T and Verizon. Others, including Sprint, complain the market is uncompetitive.
I am hearing a lot of praise for Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan’s lucid explanation of the rationale for the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway. Because we’ve had an almost complete turnover of the people who worked hard on getting this topic on the UN ESCAP the priority it deserved, starting from Under Secretary General Noeleen Hayzer and most importantly Tiziana , this oral history has added significance.