We are in the midst of a smartphone revolution. With more countries making 3G and 4G spectrum available, the momentum is likely to continue, especially if the unit prices come down. At present smartphones are being sold for as little as USD 100 in Sri Lanka. The combined effects of lower handset and connectivity prices on one hand and the greater availability of services and applications of relevance to the BOP (as investigated in the main module) are likely to bring more from the BOP onto to the Internet. Yet, if the greater use is not met with greater capacity, the result is likely to be frustration at best and people giving up on the Internet at worst. Through the minimal activities continuing a stream of research commenced in 2008, we seek to keep a seat at the table at the policy discussions on broadband quality and backhaul. The objective is to make evidence-based contributions that will result in the expected congestion and quality problems from reaching levels that would impact BOP participation in the Internet.
There is little doubt that “data tsunamis” of varying proportions will be created as smartphone use increases. An example is the 20-fold increase in data generated by mobile networks in Hong Kong China over a two-year period as the smartphones and applications proliferated.
A chain is as strong as the weakest link. Internet traffic must traverse the handset, the access network, the domestic backhaul network, and, for traffic in most developing countries, the international backhaul network, and the cloud. Congestion in any of these links will degrade the user experience and, in some cases, make certain applications unusable.
LIRNEasia research on broadband quality of service experience has shown that performance degrades when Internet use involves international backhaul (Galapaya & Zuhyle, 2011). The problem is common to all South and Southeast Asian countries studied, suggesting a common cause. LIRNEasia Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan has shown that international backhaul from Asia costs 3-6 times more than in Europe and North America. He has also demonstrated that of all the continental land masses, Asia (and Africa until recently) is exceptional in relying almost totally on submarine cables for international backhaul. Even with regard to submarine cable, the Indian Ocean between the Malacca Straits and the Suez Canal has fewer cables than other regions. This region also faces the most threats for Somali pirates, driving up submarine cable costs.
Given Asia’s population and economic growth trends, it may be safely speculated that Asian data traffic will rapidly increase in the coming years. Additional capacity, especially in the form of terrestrial cables, takes time to bring online, underlining the need for early action to focus policy attention to the problem.
In 2010-12, LIRNEasia was instrumental in placing this topic on the agendas of UNESCAP, APT and other key opinion leaders (e.g., Bonapace, 2011). What is envisioned under this component is research and dissemination activities that will build on the foundation that has been laid.