The Internet of Bangladesh has been connected to the world by a single submarine cable, Sea-Me-We 4 (SMW4), since this 18,800 kilometer-long optical-fiber system made its landing at Cox’s Bazar in 2006. However, in the nearly seven years since SMW4’s activation, national Internet outages have plagued Bangladesh with some regularity. When their portion of this system is sabotaged, suffers a failure or is down for maintenance, virtually all Internet bandwidth for the 7th most populous country in the world disappears, forcing local providers to fall back to slow and expensive satellite services or to simply wait for restoration.However, recent national outages due to planned SMW4 maintenance have revealed that some Bangladeshi providers have now activated a long-awaited second connection to the Internet via a terrestrial link to India. We’ll examine this new development here and highlight those providers who can now offer fault-tolerant Internet service for the first time in Bangladesh.
The Need for a Backup Link
As far back as 2007, only one year after activating the nation’s sole submarine cable connection, the telecommunications community in Bangladesh began advocating for the construction of a secondary physical connection to the Internet. However, despite years of plans and proposals, a second operational submarine cable hookup still seems to be years away.
In the meantime, major disruptions of Bangladesh’s Internet service continue to occur. A recent example is the SMW4 fault from last summer, which we examined here, a failure that underscored how uniquely vulnerable Bangladesh’s connectivity really is. Such events have prompted the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to act. In January 2012, the BTRC issued licenses to six companies to connect to India via the International Terrestrial Cable (ITC). The six are:
- Novocom Limited,
- BD Link Communication Ltd.,
- Mango Teleservices Ltd.,
- Summit Communications Ltd., and
- Fibre@Home Limited.
First evidence of Terrestrial Link to India
In November, we tweeted the first hard evidence of the ITC in use. When Bangladesh’s connection to SMW4 was once again taken down for maintenance, Fiber@Home was able to stay online via India, while the incumbent BTCL and others were either disconnected or had to rely on satellite back-ups. Using our latency measurements into Bangladesh during the outage, we were able to identify the impact of SMW4’s unavailability on each provider. Of the four providers illustrated below, only Fiber@Home stayed online (through India) and they even managed to attract additional traffic from dual-homed customers who then had to rely solely on them to maintain connectivity.
The two SMW4 planned outages for Bangladesh on the 19th and 23rd of this month have helped to reveal additional providers which are now receiving Internet transit from India-based Tata via the ITC and no longer solely dependent on SMW4 for Internet access. The graphics below show traceroutes going into providers in Bangladesh during the SMW4 outage from 20:14 to 21:53 UTC on 23 January, 2013. While incumbent BTCL and Mango are completely offline during the downtime, 1Asia, Aamra Technologies, NovoCom and Fiber@Home experienced increases in their traffic as customers automatically shift traffic to the surviving connection. It should be noted that the increase in latencies to Aamra is due to Tata hairpinning traffic to Aamra via Los Angeles, not because it is providing satellite service.
Greater Terrestrial Connectivity in Asia
Abu Saeed Khan, the Senior Policy Fellow of LIRNEasia, helped persuade the government of Bangladesh to join the SMW4 consortium in 2002 and has been working ever since to increase Internet inter-connectivity all across South and Southeast Asia. For several years now, he has been advocating his concept called the Longest International Open-access Network (LION) which seeks to have Asian countries migrate from the submarine cables which currently connect them together to terrestrial links, leveraging the extensive international highway system already in existence. The Bangladesh-India link may be a first step towards that reality.
For Bangladesh, the recent establishment of an operational terrestrial connection to India to serve as an alternative to SMW4 is a tremendous accomplishment. As this service becomes more widespread in the country, the recurring national Internet outages should become a thing of the past.