Asian ISPs prepare for video explosion

Internet service providers must be vigilant of their core infrastructure, increase capacity when necessary and use new technologies to optimize traffic flow.

Most network infrastructures today may be coping well with the increases in Internet traffic, but any existing overcapacity would very quickly be consumed by the advent of video. The good news is, Internet service providers (ISPs) in the Asia-Pacific region are already preparing for an online video explosion.

Sharat Sinha, Asia-Pacific director of service provider operations at Cisco Systems, said the pervasiveness of video is already changing the way businesses collaborate, innovate, market their products and services, and interact with customers.

Sinha explained in an e-mail interview: "As companies worldwide respond to the exploding need to deliver voice, data and video in real time to their end-users, regardless of their location and device, they will need to be constantly vigilant of their core infrastructure, increasing capacity when necessary, and also using new technologies to optimize the traffic flow."

Krishna Baidya, senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said Internet traffic worldwide grew over 70 percent in the past year, boosting global bandwidth consumption by more than 45 percent.

Internet traffic is estimated to contribute up to 75 percent of used submarine cable capacity, Baidya told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

"Recent reports suggest key activities accounting for this growth were multimedia--mostly video--which grew 40 percent, community [participation] that rose 33 percent, and online games with 14 percent growth," he said.

"The use of video calls among consumers has also experienced a huge rise," he noted. "Video continues to capture over 60 percent of the peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic. Soon, there will be a shift to high-definition (HD) videos, which is almost 10 times more bandwidth intensive."

According to Cisco research, global Internet traffic will nearly double every two years through to 2011. Total Web traffic is also projected to quadruple in the four-year period from 2007 to 2011, generating over 6 exabytes of data per month in 2007 to 29 exabytes per month in 2011. An exabyte is 1 billion gigabytes.

Consumer Internet traffic driven by HD video and broadband adoption will sustain a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46 percent through to 2011, Cisco projected.

Major Net collapse
Last month, an AT&T executive warned that without additional investment, the current Internet network architecture will reach the limits of its capacity by 2010.

However, Kenneth Liew, IDC's Asia-Pacific senior market analyst of communications, said it was unlikely this would happen in the next few years as ISPs and network owners are constantly upgrading their infrastructure and systems to maintain their level of customer service.

Frost's Baidya agreed: "Today's Internet has reached its current state of infrastructure mostly due to contributions from private investors. Innovators in the industry took the early steps to develop the infrastructure, and continue to maintain and upgrade, as and when needed."

Liew told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview: "ISPs and submarine communication cable owners…are the first to know their networks are reaching capacity and make their own judgment on whether to upgrade and expand capacity or not.

"Being the owners of their respective networks, it is their responsibility to ensure there is enough bandwidth and capacity to serve their users," he added.

In 2007, 17 operators signed an agreement to build the first high-bandwidth optical fiber submarine cable system linking Southeast Asia directly to the United States. The Asia-America Gateway (AAG) is expected to cost about US$500 million and to be completed in end-2008.

Operators involved in the project include Eastern Telecommunications Philippines, the Government of Brunei Darussalam, Indosat, StarHub, Telstra, Telkom Indonesi and Telekom Malaysia. The 20,000 kilometer-long AAG will provide bandwidth capacity of up to 1.92 terabits per second (Tbps) along a more secure alternative link from the region to the United States, bypassing the hazardous Pacific Ring often affected by earthquakes and tsunamis.

Wilfred Kwan, chief technology officer at Pacnet, said the Pan-Asian ISP had predicted since 2004, that its network--and that of Asia's--would need upgrading or risk maxing out capacity in 2007. To this end, Pacnet has continuously upgraded its network, Kwan said in a phone interview.

Other ISPs have done likewise.

Lim Seow Thong, head of IP (Internet Protocol) services at StarHub, said in an e-mail interview that ISPs plan their capacity requirements based on business needs and consumer demand.

A SingTel spokesperson told ZDNet Asia: "To cope with the growth in Internet traffic, SingTel has been continuously increasing its network capacity and upgrading its network by using the latest technology.

"We closely monitor network usage on a regular basis and have put in place processes to increase our network capacity in a timely manner to cope with increasing demand," said the carrier, which owns ISP SingNet.

IDC's Liew said ISPs and network owners are responsible for bearing the cost of their own infrastructure upgrades. "In order to maintain a good service level for their users, they will have to upgrade their network," he said. "The cost will eventually be passed on to the end-users as part of the ISP's broadband access service charges."

Kwan added: "The decision [to upgrade] is based on demand and supply. It must be profitable".

Cisco's Sinha noted that the growing importance of knowledge, information and technology in providing competitiveness and comparative advantage, has set "progressive governments around the world to recognize the importance of network readiness".

"For example, the Singapore government identified a [next-generation network (NGN) infrastructure] as a strategic enabler for the country's economic restructuring and competitiveness," he said.

Steps ahead of a bang
Two separate groups comprising global telecommunication players recently announced plans to build new high-capacity sub-cable systems to support the region's growing demand for bandwidth.

The first group on Wednesday signed a construction and maintenance agreement to build the first direct, high-bandwidth optical-fiber submarine cable system from the United Kingdom to India. The 15,000 kilometer Europe India Gateway (EIG) will cost about US$700 million, according to the partners.

Slated to be operational in the second quarter of 2010, it will connect 13 countries and three continents. Telecommunication players in the project include AT&T, Bharti Airtel, BT, C&W, Djibouti Telecom, Telkom SA and Verizon Business. Landings are planned in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco, Monaco, France, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and India.

The second consortium, comprising six companies, announced an agreement in February to build a 10,000 km "Unity" high-bandwidth subsea fiber-optic cable system, linking the United States and Japan. Estimated to cost US$300 million, the infrastructure is expected to initially increase Trans-Pacific lit cable capacity by about 20 percent, with the potential to provide bandwidth of up to 7.68 Tbps of across the Pacific.

The consortium comprises Bharti Airtel, Global Transit, Google, KDDI, Pacnet and SingTel. Unity will provide connectivity between Chikura, located off the coast near Tokyo, to Los Angeles and other U.S. west coast network points.