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.
It has been estimated that submarine cables carry traffic associated with over US$10 trillion in transactional value globally per day. It is being also claimed that submarine cables transport 99% of the international data worldwide. These are largely true, yet exaggerated marketing pitch. Terrestrial cables also carry huge volume of international data traffic across the borders, especially within Europe and across the Eurasian routes. It, however, makes no difference with the consumers as long as they remain online.
SEA-ME-WE4, the only submarine cable of Bangladesh, has been down again for 10 days. This outage has affected the business of BSCCL, the state-owned subsea cable monopoly. Doug Madory of Dyn Research, the global Internet performance monitor company, has shared with me the diagnostic image of BSCCL traffic (Click on the thumbnail). Evidently the six cross-border terrestrial operators of Bangladesh have been keeping Internet alive via India. There is, however, a huge risk.
TeleGeography’s 2014 Middle East telecoms map is now available. It depicts 48 active and three planned submarine cable systems. Five terrestrial cables are also shown in this map. The landing stations and respective owners are also provided. The infographics embedded in the map present major intraregional and interregional voice and Internet routes.
The Packet Clearing House is a great repository of knowledge about the way the Internet is developing. Being a decentralized network there is no central entity that decides on things or even collects data about what is happening. So entities such as PCH play an important role. The recent UN General Assembly speech by President Rouseff was perhaps the strongest response to spying by the NSA. The commentary by Bill Woodcock of PCH provides an excellent framework to understand the issues.
Led by Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan we’ve been saying that Asia needs a terrestrial cable system to back up the submarine cables. By the time international government organizations get organized, the private workarounds will be fully operational. Like traders plying the ancient Silk Road, telecommunications operators routing bits and bytes from Asia to Europe and back have to pass through the Middle East, whose tricky geography and even more challenging geopolitics have sometimes made the region just as much of a bottleneck in the digital realm as in the physical world. When things go wrong, the consequences can be serious and far-reaching. In January 2008, for example, several underwater cables off the Mediterranean coast of Egypt were inexplicably severed.