I’ve always had this fascination with the cellar dwellers. Those days, Myanmar was firmly ensconced in the second to last place, kept from the honor of being the least connected place by St Helena. But the 4,000 plus inhabitants have had mobile telephony since 2015. As of two weeks ago scheduled flights are landing in their brand new airport. And they are about to be connected to SAEx soon.
So there was this article in a Myanmar newspaper: Myanmar only has two undersea fibre-optic cables and two cross-border cables for its Internet traffic. By contrast regional leader Singapore has a total of 21 international fibre links, 15 of which are undersea and six cross-border. Malaysia has 17 links – 13 undersea and four cross-border; Thailand has 10 undersea and four cross-border; the Philippines has nine undersea and six cross-border; and Vietnam has five undersea and two cross-border cables. Cambodia lags behind with three undersea Internet fibre cables and one cross-border cable. In South Asia, Bangladesh has two undersea and two cross-border, while Sri Lanka has seven undersea and four cross-border cables.
I was not expecting media coverage for the discussions on BIMSTEC in Bangkok over the weekend. But there was quite a comprehensive report in a Bangladesh publication. Connectivity gaps, in terms of absent or insufficient road and rail connections, exist and need to be addressed and public-private partnerships can do so if handled intelligently, Samarajiva continued. The government must be involved to clear rights of way and because they can raise low cost money for infrastructure, while private entities can mobilise competitiveness, which he considers crucial. “Do not allow state monopolies to control them,” he said.
Pathfinder Foundation and Carnegie India organized a conference on connectivity. I was asked to speak on air connectivity, which I was happy to do, it being a rather neglected subject. The paper is still not ready for prime time, some of the data not having yet been provided by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka. But here is the conclusion: There may be marginal possibilities for increasing passenger and freight movements between India and Sri Lanka through reforms in air travel and visa policies which could possibly be included in the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). The construction of additional international airports, such as those in Jaffna and Trincomalee, where significant Sri Lankan Tamil populations live may also contribute.
We have been engaged with broader connectivity issues in the region since 2010, when Abu Saeed Khan and I started working to move ICT connectivity issues up on UN ESCAP’s agenda, embedded in other forms of connectivity. Much of what we’ve done in this area recently has been on the demand for connectivity developing in the Bay of Bengal. But thanks to the Trincomalee Consultation organized by Pathfinder Foundation and Carnegie India, I look at the supply side, with focus on Trincomalee. Here are the concluding comments. When conclusions are drawn from maps and anecdotes, it seems obvious that Trincomalee is ideally positioned to serve as a maritime gateway to the Bay of Bengal region.
I once wrote a parable to make sense of the positions the various players were taking on Internet developments. After the dust settled, I expected them to work together to make money, rather than run behind the ITU or national governments asking for favors. Facebook has been explaining what it wants to do to make the Internet experience better for all users. Subramanian outlined a couple of its many bold network initiatives it is working on to bring access to the estimated 4.2 billion people who aren’t connected.
Below is an excerpt of the write-up of the 2nd BIMSTEC Foundation Lecture I gave on the 24th of August. As the economies of the littoral states grow, the need for connectivity will be heightened. Greater connectivity will make possible increased economic interactions and thereby further accelerate growth. With four of the littoral states among the 10 fastest growing economies in the world as shown in Figure 2 based on IMF projections. If the adjacent states of Cambodia and Laos are included six of the 10 fastest growing economies are in the region.
That is the title of the talk I will be giving on 24th August at 0900 hrs as the 2nd BIMSTEC Foundation Lecture at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Here I present (incomplete) evidence of the historical connectedness of the Bay of Bengal, reasons why the connectivity decreased after the Second World War, and information on current major developments in multiple forms of connectivity, including fiber optic cables. The slides are here.
The second day of the symposium organized by the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies and Pathfinder Foundation involved interaction between the Sri Lankan delegation and representatives of the provincial governments in China. The presentation I made is here.
I was asked to speak about Sri Lanka’s economic strategies and the Maritime Silk Road, here at the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies – Pathfinder Foundation symposium today. I am not sure this is just about Sri Lanka, but connectivity, if it is to be effective, has to work for all who are connected, so it does not have to be. I guess I could do a slightly different version of this for Myanmar and Bangladesh. Anyway, here‘s what I presented in eight minutes. It covers marine, aviation and telecom connectivity.
In 2012, I wrote in a Myanmar newspaper that according to the latest ITU data, Myanmar had less mobile SIMs in service for 100 people than every other country except St Helena, which had no mobile service at all. There was nothing to say about Internet. Three years later, Myanmar has leaped ahead of both Pakistan and Bangladesh in the ICT Development Index (IDI), driven principally by a 15-place advance in the Use Sub-index. It is now ranked 142nd among the countries that are included by the ITU in the Index. The massive increase in the number of mobile SIMs per 100 people increasing from one in 2010 to 49.
The original idea was that problems in the last mile were holding back the next billion. My argument was that while problems of quality and affordability are experienced by users on their terminal devices in the last mile, the actual causes are along the supply chain, in the form of expensive and non-resilient domestic and international backhaul. The slideset.
In the context of LIRNEasia’s work, connectivity is usually understood as electronic connectivity. But as the quote below exemplifies, in most contexts it means everything other than electronic. It is our challenge to merge these two conceptions. It is now normal in road design to include conduits for fiber. We hope that this will be written into the Asian Highway legal documents shortly.
My colleague who made the previous post had neglected to look at the cause of the so-called spike in inactive SIMs. The cause is a change in definition, plain and simple. The market revaluation has been triggered by rule changes in the activity period allowed for prepaid users and the effect of mandatory SIM registration. Previously, users would see their services terminated if they had not recharged their prepaid cards or placed/received a call within a period of 180 days. In 2010, that period was reduced to 90 days and, recently, the TRAI has reportedly reduced the period to just 20 days.
Because of some work done on India-Sri Lanka services trade, I keep getting invited to speak on related topics, including physical connectivity between India and Sri Lanka. Not sure what good comes of these talks, but . . . Physical connectivity in the southern SAARC region.
Since 2004, India has been behind Pakistan on a key indicator: mobile SIMs/100. Few in India wanted to talk about this. But we did. Now finally, India has pulled ahead, as it should. I discuss the reasons in a recent piece done for Pioneer.