Content, infrastructure vital for Asia's broadband success

ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure called on Asian governments to not just pay attention to fiber rollout but also foster compelling content to draw Internet traffic.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--It is important for Asia's governments to drive national broadband deployment initiatives, but they should also look to foster environments that encourage local content creation.

International Telecommunication Union Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure issued this call, noting that these two components should be developed in tandem in order for "nation-level broadband projects to work". The senior executive was in town to present at the next-generation broadband infrastructure conference track held here Wednesday at the CommunicAsia tradeshow.

Toure mooted a "4P" collaborative framework, which he described as a partnership between public- and private-sector organizations, as well as people.

The next-generation nationwide broadband network (NBN) projects initiated by Singapore, Malaysia and Australia are examples in which the 4P model was used to spur deployment, he noted.

Wean off subsea cable reliance
While broadband projects continue to gain traction within Asia-Pacific, Bill Barney, CEO of telecommunications service provider, Pacnet, highlighted several challenges that might hinder deployment plans.

Chief of these challenges is the region's reliance on sub-sea cables for Internet connectivity, of which 88 percent of traffic in 2009 were delivered using these pipes, Barney noted.

Natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami suffered by Japan, as well as accidental damages caused by ship anchors and fishing trawlers leave these submarine cables particularly vulnerable, he pointed out.

For example, he noted that if the Japan earthquake had hit 35 miles south of where it did, 80 percent of Asia's Internet connectivity to the United States would have gone down.

This, Barney noted, is a problem the industry has yet to find a solution to, and if another earthquake were to hit Japan, Pacnet would have to scramble to partner other stakeholders to keep communication lines open.

According to Abu Saeed Khan, senior policy fellow at LIRNEasia, piracy is another mounting challenge in this region. LIRNEasia is an Asia-Pacific ICT policy and regulation think-tank.

Khan, who also presented at the conference Wednesday, explained that the bandwidth in this region is still expensive, partly because costs are "artificially inflated" by the abovementioned challenges as well as how regional seaways are not likely to open up soon for more sub-sea cables to be laid.

To address these problems, he suggested regional governments and regulatory bodies come together and look into the feasibility of LION (longest international open access network), which is a terrestrial cable network proposal that would run overland and link Asia to Europe via the Middle East.

"The 'Asian Highway' trade route is already running and transporting goods and people from Asia to Europe, so I don't see why the running of cables using this route cannot help alleviate governments' burden of cost and increase utilization of existing infrastructure resources," he said.

This terrestrial cable network would then help reduce the region's reliance on submarine cables, he added.

That said, Khan noted that world bodies such as the ITU need to come onboard and convince Asian governments to put aside differences to share existing broadband infrastructure resources.

Otherwise, broadband deployment initiatives would just be viewed as "fraudband", he said.

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