Innovation ousts orthodoxy. Soft-switch has replaced telephone exchange equipment. Undersea optical fiber cables have marginalized satellites in intercontinental and transcontinental connectivity. Terrestrial optical fiber networks – along the highways, railway tracks, power grids and gas pipelines – are replacing microwave radio links. All these physical networks lead to data centers at home and abroad.
Nepal Telecom and Hong Kong-headquartered China Telecom Global has connected each other across Nepal’s northern border with Tibet through a mix of underground and all-dielectric self-supporting (ADSS) optical fiber cable network. Activation of this link on January 12, 2018 has ended the exclusivity of Tata’s and Bharti Airtel’s international connectivity to the landlocked Himalayan state. Now Nepal can procure IP-transit, interconnection bandwidth, international leased circuits and cloud services at highly competitive rates from Asia’s one of the two carrier-neutral hubs at Hong Kong (Singapore is the other one). Nepal has reportedly activated only 1.5 Gbps through the Chinese carrier, due to technical constrains of the ADSS link.
A senior UN official has blamed the telecoms networks for threatening the road safety across Asia and the United States of America.
Most of the organizations that were given time at the First Session of the Steering Committee meeting used the time to advertise themselves. I chose instead to present our broad range of contributions to AP-IS in the form of a short presentation of work done under the Project on Myanmar as an Inclusive Information Society. I briefly described some findings from the baseline and endline surveys, pointing out that much of what came out from the ITU on Internet users was worthless. We are not expecting to do such surveys again, though there is value in surveys being done periodically. My second point was on the need to develop an understanding of broadband quality of service experience.
For some time we have been pointing to the fact that , the Bay of Bengal is one of the least connected by cable despite being home to six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies. Something is being done about it: a private company and the Bangladesh government’s undersea cable monopoly are entering into a joint venture to connect the landing point of SEA-ME-WE 4 in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, and the capital of the Rakhine State in Myanmar. The private entity will own 90 percent of the cable, presumably because BSCCL could not come up with more money. It is a good thing, and meshes with the UN ESCAP vision of a Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) which is redundant and low cost. The cable will be 250 kilometres long and will connect Cox’s Bazar and Myanmar’s coastal city of Sittwe, said Monwar Hossain, managing director of BSCCL.
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.
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).
I was asked to select a topic when I was invited to deliver the keynote at the APNIC 42 conference that was moved from Dhaka to Colombo because of the terror attacks. APNIC people usually get their jollies by debating things like the pros and cons of IPv6 versus IPv4. I had no comparative advantage on such esoterica. So I thought I’d try to broaden their horizons a little. Little attention is paid in these kinds of gatherings to what make it possible for the packets to flow: the fiber cables and the spectrum.
It was a problem in the country that gave its name to the Bay of Bengal that caused the main APNIC conference to shift its location to Colombo. So, when I was asked to deliver one of the two keynotes, I proposed a talk on connectivity in the Bay. Now that SAARC has taken a hit to its gut, there are many who think regional cooperation should focus on the Bay that unites us rather than the land that divides. Here is what the keynote is about: Much is changing in the region’s ICT infrastructure. China Unicom is building a cable station in Ngwe Saung on the Myanmar coast, solely for the purpose of connecting Western China to the world through the AAE-1 cable.
UN ESCAP has just put up a video of an interview I gave them a while back. Listening to it again, it seems that they succeeded in getting me to weave together a number of strands of work undertaken by LIRNEasia over the years, including broadband quality of service, importance of low-cost reliable international backhaul, and broadband eco systems. The one additional element is a discussion of leaders of tomorrow, making reference to MIDO and what’s happening in Myanmar as well our work with big data. This starts midway in the interview (2:28). I did not recall this part.
Three years back I wrote about the Bay of Bengal Gateway (BBG) cable. It has been officially activated today. In my engagement with the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway of ESCAP, I have been consistently referring to BBG as Asia’s very first cross-sector telecoms infrastructure that links beyond the border. The designers of BBG have very wisely bypassed the pirate infested infamous strait of Malacca. From double landing stations at Singapore it traverses across Malaysia and terminates at Penang.
Pakistan has officially allowed private carriers to terrestrially plug the country with all the four neighbors including India. This multidimensional landmark decision makes Pakistan the buckle of South Asia-Central Asia telecoms belt. This route is embedded in our proposed trans-Asian connectivity for affordable broadband. It took us three years to convince ESCAP, which dubs our concept “Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway.” Pakistan currently exports internet bandwidth to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
China Unicom has built the US$50 million China-Myanmar International (CMI) terrestrial link. But it is yet to be activated for unknown reasons and Myanmar keeps suffering from outages. Now Beijing has ceremoniously announced its plan to build a Sino-ASEAN submarine cable network without revealing any details. South Asia and Southeast Asia has become the hotbed of Sino-Japanese rivalry, especially after the formation of AIIB. This new development bank has gained unprecedented global membership at a lightning pace.
The politicians of China, Japan, South Korea and Viet Nam have locked horn over the maritime rights in South China Sea. Simultaneously, the telecoms carriers of these countries have been laying optical fiber cables underneath the same disputed water to connect each other. Dubbed as “Asia Pacific Gateway” or APG, this cable lands at Tanah Merah (Singapore), Kuantan (Malaysia), Songkhla (Thailand), Da Nang (Vietnam), Tseung Kwan O (Hong Kong), Toucheng (Taiwan), Nanhui and Chongming (mainland China), Busan (South Korea), and Shima and Maruyama (Japan). These nine countries had 900 million Internet subscribers in 2013, representing 69% of the 1.3 billion Asian subscribers and 32% of the 2.