Asia disconnected

The boxing day earthquake off the cost of Taiwan impacted India’s connectivity in a drastic way. Latencies to every major US web site nearly doubled and remained at ~800ms for every round-trip.

Business Week Asia is covering the impact of the quake on the India, Taiwan, China and other South East asian countries. The story also covers how telecom operators began to gear up to re-route traffic and what difficulties they face.

Traditionally, since hosting services and bandwidth are cheaper and more reliable in the US compared to the rest of the world – Indian businesses picked data centers in the US over India.

The lesson drawn from the aftermath of the earthquake is of course that the Internet is fragile. If your target market is here in India, you ought to think about locating your content near here, or at least introduce enough redundancy in your systems to prevent such a freak accident from disabling your online access points.

After the earthquake off Taiwan’s southern tip at 8.30 pm on Boxing Day, the shifting seabed began to stretch some of the dozens of cable segment that run through it.

By lunch the following day, eight international cables had been severed in 16 places. As every Asian Internet user now knows, the prime role of those cables was to connect across the Pacific to the US, the largest single source of Internet content.

The result was Asia’s biggest ever loss of Internet capacity. Users were unable to access major US sites such as Google, Yahoo, YouTube and CNN.

Echoing a universally-held view, VSNL vice president of global transmission services Byron Clutterbuck said it was fortunate that the event occurred in one of the quietest periods of the year.

The disruption was less drastic for Indian-based VSNL, one of the world’s biggest owners of subsea capacity, which opened up a “back-route” to the US via Europe.

“We are fortunate we own a lot of capacity on other systems. The cost side is more internal – the opportunity cost,” said Clutterbuck.

He also dispelled the idea that satellite was a potential source of diversity, noting the latency on a 60,000-kilometer roundtrip and the much higher costs of satellite bandwidth.

But he complained that some carriers were exploiting the situation “to make a quick dollar,” charging up to five times more than the regular prices for bandwidth.

Broken Connections in Asia” – Business Week Asia.

Business Week is also running another story profiling the Bandwidth consumption trends in India. Most of it appears to be international – driven by Indian businesses which sell their services to the rest of the world. It does not appear as if any reduction in the cost of bandwidth can be passed back to the end-consumers at home. Indians will continue to pay the some of the highest rates for internet bandwidth. The trans-atlantic and trans-pacific routes are already at a premium.

Since early 2006, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been pushing for amendments to the international long distance licenses so that more operators could enter the market. In mid-December the Indian government accepted the recommendations for the re-sale of bandwidth, allowing other players to access the cable landing stations owned largely by VSNL/Tata as well as Bharti and Reliance, which have smaller operations.

“There will be a price reduction in the cost of bandwidth, which will not only help bandwidth-dependent companies like call centers, business process outsourcing [BPO] firms, telecom and media companies compete with the global majors, but also make India one of the most bandwidth-competitive countries in the world,” says Amitabh Singhal, CEO of Telxess Consulting Services, a telecom analyst firm based in New Delhi.

Current bandwidth prices are as much as five times higher than on some international routes, according to industry sources, who add that once the directive comes into force, bandwidth prices could drop by 20%-25%.

“This will enhance competition in international private leased circuits through the entry of resellers, who will be non-facility based operators,” TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra, said while lobbying the government for a more liberalized approach.

India’s coming Bandwidth Boom” – Business Week Asia.

I wonder if the TRAI will at some point enforce a difference in cost for domestic bandwidth consumption (of which we have plenty) and international bandwidth consumption (not for the end-consumer, but for businesses)? Although cumbersome, but not impossible to implement, the hope is that the cost benefit will pass on from the local web businesses to consumers who will grow to be a sizeable segment in the future.

In retrospect, this thought looks a lot like a step in the wrong direction. The Internet by its very nature is independent of the geography and we must keep it that way. The real sore point is the lack of infrastructure, maturity, and expertise in the domestic bandwidth and hosting business. The fact that Indian internet consumers pay more for bandwidth overall, since most of the content the country (businesses and end-consumers) consumes is in the USA – is only collateral. An international bandwidth consumption tax cannot help sort this area out.

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