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.
We thought that long distance carriers would be the primary beneficiaries of Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS). That was way back in 2010 and six years is long enough to radically transform telecoms in this century. Now the Internet companies and content providers are outperforming the baffled carriers in every front. That is what I presented in the 2nd Working Group Meeting of AP-IS at Guangzhou early this week. Image source.
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.
The work that we began in 2010 with UN ESCAP on improving the international backhaul capacity of Asia is continuing to move forward. The latest step is a pre-feasibility study on ASEAN connectivity conducted in early 2015 and published in 2016. The study found that Internet traffic measurement of international paths (backbone trunk lines), undertaken in early 2015 as part of an UN ESCAP initiative showed serious problems existed in Internet traffic exchange and management within the ASEAN region. The worst result showed an international backbone trunk line download speed of 0.15Mps, latency of 230 msec and Tromboning Index (TI) value of 35.
The report, published in April 2016, covers a range of issues, but is perhaps unique in its emphasis on the potential of big data. This report highlighted some emerging technologies such as the use of Big Data for DRM purposes. It is one that is still being explored but has so far demonstrated immense potential. However, along with it come significant challenges that have to be overcome in order to truly benefit from real-time use of MNBD. Utilizing new sources of data such as MNBD and even social media for assisting in predicting emerging trends and shocks as well as for building greater resilience is still an emergent field.
Our quest for laying optical fiber along the 143,000 kilometers of Asian Highway dates back to 2011. The objective is to liberate Asia’s increasingly digitized cross-border economy from exclusive dependency of submarine cables. Blending the overland and undersea telecoms infrastructure to solidify the continent’s competitive edge has been central to our mission. Thankfully the ESCAP, which fosters Asian Highway, has listened to us. Now it leads the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) initiative.
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.
In the policy world, one does not want to be alone. I have even dressed up new policy ideas as variations on existing ones, in order to get them accepted. When Abu Saeed Khan persuaded me that international backhaul was an important issue in Islamabad in May 2010, he was quite alone. When I made the first presentation on the subject to the expert group at ESCAP in November 2010, LIRNEasia was a lone voice in the wilderness. Abu then took the lead role.
I was invited to speak at the opening session of the ESCAP training workshop organized by the ICT and DRR Division, March 8-9, 2016. This was to introduce the report we had prepared for ESCAP on Building e-resilience, which is about to be released. The slides I used in my presentation are here. Because there was enough time (unusually), I went into some depth on one recommendation per inter-governmental organizations; governments and telecom service operators. Insurance appeared under two headings and took much of the time devoted to discussion.
A LIRNEasia report will be the centerpiece of the Workshop on Knowledge and Policy Gaps in Disaster Risk Reduction and Development Planning organized by the ICT and Disaster Risk Reduction Division of ESCAP on 8-9 March 2016, at United Nations Conference Centre, Bangkok. Link to workshop information. LIRNEasia will also make presentations on uses of mobile network big data for disaster risk reduction and on improving international backhaul. The MNBD Talk.
Sliding revenues from conventional wholesale services mean carriers are being challenged to find new drivers for growth. It has been the hot topic in this year’s Pacific Telecommunication Council’s Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. I presented the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway as new avenue to revenue. Here is my presentation.
ESCAP is part of the UN. By design, it is better positioned to work across silos than specialized agencies such as the ITU and WHO. One of the key points made about the sustainable development goals that were recently adopted is that they require working across silos. Big data naturally cuts across disciplinary boundaries. It transcends organizational silos.
In a few hours I’ll be speaking at a panel on how big data is already being used for sustainable development. ESCAP has pulled together an interesting group of people together to talk about how big data can help with the daunting task of measuring progress on the 169 targets that the UN has set for itself. The slides I will be using are here. Sorry they do not tell the full story since I have been asked to keep them to a minimum.
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.
I spent Nov 5-6 in Shanghai at the invitation of the Pathfinder Foundation as part of a Track 2 discussion with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. The focus of my presentation was on how the MSR could serve Sri Lanka’s economic advancement. It was not limited to research undertaken by LIRNEasia. However, the section on electronic connectivity draws from the work we have been doing with ESCAP since 2010.
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.