Breaking the Bandwidth Bottleneck

By Clement Goh

With over one-third of the world’s population now actively online, Asian consumers continue to display an insatiable appetite for new devices, digital content and constant connectivity.

This bandwidth intensive revolution has been heeded by governments and industry alike that are in a race with data to provide capacity that will meet the exponential bandwidth demand. According to United Nations estimates, by 2016, there are expected to be 3.4 billion internet users or 45% of the world’s population.

The rise of National Broadband Network (NBN) initiatives and investment around the Asia Pacific are healthy barometers for a tide of optimism that not only will help us face the challenges of the data explosion but also serve to act as protagonists to encourage further bandwidth take up and the creation of innovative, socially transforming, bandwidth intensive applications.

One red flag however, is the bandwidth bottleneck issue.

While regionally we have enjoyed huge advances in the development and deployment of undersea cables and trans-international connectivity, much of our big data capacity remains land locked.

By 2016, the Asia Pacific region is forecast to generate the most IP traffic according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index at 40.5 exabytes per month. Yes, that is exabytes, a vast amount of data …one exabyte comprises 1,000 petabytes.

So while national broadband network deployments in Asia are prolific, they are essentially a local connectivity solution. The issue ahead is how do we plan for accelerating global traffic?

Bridging the Gap between Global and Local

In every country there is a need for national broadband networks to peer with other carriers.

It is a noble idea that NBN will reduce outgoing traffic but sometimes and often this traffic has to loop around the world before it comes back. The ideal environment between point to point is that you want the traffic to be kept locally for latency reasons and to keep bandwidth costs down.

Yet a lot of the information and traffic that Singaporeans access is being generated from outside of the country not within it. Peering becomes a paramount issue in this bandwidth bottleneck.

As innovative services like telemedicine or video based interactive social and educational services evolve the lack of interconnectivity issues may compromise the performance of high-speed broadband. It will be likely these services may have to connect to sources outside of the country before returning back, and no matter how fast the internal network is, if international peering is not in place it will cost time and money.

Encouraging more providers to host content domestically is one way of helping the bottleneck glut but peering is a much easier solution. When you peer it is a bilateral relationship, traffic is back in your control.

In Singapore, the NBN is not hooked up to an international peering network yet.

While currently in Singapore the NBN is very focused on residential deployment and servicing, once the focus shifts to commercial deployment, business customers will be demanding high performance for international traffic.

For cloud and video conferencing solutions, which are becoming the life blood of business and the driver of broadband demand from the corporate sector, peering issues will create revenue limiting situations.

Asian consumers continue to display an insatiable appetite for new devices, digital content and constant connectivity.

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Even at a consumer level, the peering issue is rearing its ugly head. In anecdotal experiences, prospective NBN customers are being warned by customer service representatives that if they were accessing a lot of international sites their bandwidth speeds could be impeded. Obviously that is a barrier to signing on. And as Singapore is a regional hub for Mobile Network Carriers (MNCs) and has a huge population of ex-pats, one wonders how limiting this issue is fast becoming.

In a successful digital economy we want to encourage the development of local apps and services that leverage the rich bandwidth experience that an NBN investment brings.

Local online shopping sites, telemedicine and other social and health services, easy to access government services such a paying taxes online are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of generating high volumes of data and transactions to drive demand for the NBN.

In the business realm, so called killer apps that leverage the cloud and home-grown technology innovation to drive the demand for compelling local traffic really will be making the difference to the success of NBN take-up.