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More redundancy needed for global links

Ongoing and planned network upgrades between Asia and U.S. sufficient for bandwidth demands, but ISPs need redundancy to better manage outages.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Video over broadband is causing a "huge surge" in bandwidth demands on international links between Asia and the United States, but ongoing and planned network upgrades are likely sufficient to deal with the extra load, according to an analyst.

Adeel Najam, Frost & Sullivan industry analyst, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview traffic between Asia and the U.S. has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 61.2 percent between 2001 and 2008. This trend is expected to continue, primarily driven by the "increasing appetite for high-quality video from broadband subscribers", he said.

Najam noted that with the exception of outages caused by cable breaks, congestion issues on networks are "not significant". However, the analyst advised ISPs (Internet service providers) to establish more redundancy routes in the event of disaster.

An overland cable connecting China and India was recently established with the aim of avoiding the typical water route that saw a number of cable breaks due to undersea turbulence.

Pointing to other network upgrades, Najam said several projects underway such as the Asia American Gateway (AAG), the Unity and the Trans-Pacific Express, will be able to cater to the increased demands for bandwidth in future.

He added that ISPs need to focus on building out last-mile access to cope with traffic demands.

Pacnet CEO Bill Barney said in a phone interview last-mile access "is the biggest issue", adding that projects such as the Singapore next-generation broadband network will help deliver better access to users.

"We can solve the submarine portion of [the congestion problem] but ISPs need to reach people," he said, noting that building last-mile access is costly. It involves high capital outlay and this cost also needs to be justified by the level of user subscription, he added.

Barney acknowledged the problem with international network congestions is real, but added that large-scale upgrades carried out by ISPs such as Pacnet's 3.6Tbps boost to its EAC-C2C network "eliminates the congestion on the spot".

With most of the U.S.-Asia traffic routing through Japan, the telecoms service provider is looking to beef up the connection by laying a new cable between Japan and Los Angeles in November, making this the fourth cable along that route, he said.

Nonetheless, the company's "new priority" remains focused on building out connections to underserved areas, said Barney. "The developed markets have fairly good capacity for the time being," he said.

Too volatile and latent
However, Stuart Spiteri, Akamai Asia-Pacific managing director, noted a bigger problem in the volatility and latency of long-haul cables.

In a call with ZDNet Asia, he explained: "There is ample bandwidth in the last mile. Last-mile access is not the major inhibiter of Internet content and applications."

That bigger problem is that networks today are not able to deal with spikes in traffic driven by social networks, said Spiteri, who pointed to events such as the Obama inauguration earlier this year and Michael Jackson's death, where users in the region rushed to download related video content driving large surges in traffic from Asia over to U.S.-hosted sites.

Another issue plaguing the delivery of fast Internet connectivity is the influx of new network providers, particularly, tier-two and -three hosts, he noted. These market players have "lesser grade networks", which may have a higher propensity for outages, and may not update their BGP (border gateway protocol) tables in a timely fashion in the event of the network failure, he said. Timely BGP updates on outages help indicate to other network hosts to route traffic elsewhere to keep data flowing.

"In 50 years from now, how many cables can we run across the Pacific? One earthquake will take out half your cables, and you get the same problem again," he said.

Network providers are simply not building cables "fast enough" to keep up with the surge in bandwidth demands, noted Spiteri.

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