The Global Social Network
A $44 million 820 kilometer fiber optic cable being laid between Pakistan and China will be the 6th high-speed connection to add redundancy and to cater to rapidly growing Internet traffic from-to Pakistan. It is part of the $46 billion Pak-China Economic Corridor project recently agreed between the two neighbors.
Undersea Fiber Connectivity:
Pakistan is currently connected with the world through four undersea fibre optic cables. These include India-Middle East-Western Europe (I-ME-WE), Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 3 (SEA-ME-WE-3) and Southeast Asia-Middle-East-Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE-4), operated by Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) and TWA-1, which is owned by Trans-World Associates. A fifth undersea cable called South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe (SEA-ME-WE)-5 is being laid to connect Pakistan with the rest of the world, according to Pakistani media reports.
Overland China-Pakistan Fiber:
The overland fibre optic cable is being laid by Chinese company Huawei between Rawalpindi and Khunjarab Pass on Pakistan-China border, a distance of 820 kilometers, according to media reports.
When completed, this project will provide Pakistan with a direct telecom access to China and the Central Asian States, and from there to Europe and the United States.
Internet Traffic Growth:
The launch of 3G and 4G networks has accelerated the growth of Internet users in Pakistan. More than a million subscribers are signing up every month since the 3G and 4G rollout in the country last year. These new users are generating more and more data traffic requiring rapid increases in available bandwidth.
Pakistan ended March 2015 with over 12.07 million 3G/4G subscribers, up from 10.34 million in February, according to data from Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). Telenor led the 3G/4G market with over 3.53 million subscribers, followed by CMPak (2.95 million 3G/4G subscribers), Mobilink (2.86 million 3G subscribers), and Ufone (2.66 million 3G subscribers). Warid had 66,140 LTE network subscribers at 31 March.
Thousands of kilometers long fiber network is currently in place to deal with the growing domestic bandwidth demand. Several projects are underway to grow this network further.
Redundancy and Reliability:
Pakistan needs multiple fiber connections to the outside world to prevent the kind of major Internet outages the country has suffered periodically for the last decade.
For example, a major disruption occurred in June 2005 when ALL Internet access from Pakistan was lost due to damage to the lone undersea fiber optic cable in the Arabian Sea connecting the nation with the rest of the world. There were satellite links but these links have very limited bandwidth. Even though the number of Internet users in Pakistan was relatively small at about 15-20 million, the impact on business was disproportionate. Traders on KSE reported as much as 80% drop in trading volume from this outage. All call center activities and other BPO vendors were severely affected.
Then there were more episodes of severe disruptions in 2008 when several undersea cables were cut. The Maldives were 100 percent down, followed by India, which had 82 percent disruption. Qatar, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates were the next most widely affected areas with about 70 percent service interrupted. Disruptions for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan ranged from 51 percent to 55 percent.
The increasing number of external fiber connections will help minimize disruptions in Internet connectivity and help deal with its impact on Pakistan's businesses, industry and security.
High-speed Internet connectivity is at least as essential as other forms of communication, if not more so. Pakistan is investing in it for its economic and national security. Investments in this area need to be continuously boosted as the user base grows in the country.