Sources say the problem will be solved after the country’s third submarine cable SEA-ME-WE-6 arrives in the middle of 2024
The grave reality of Bangladesh running out of internet bandwidth as early as 2023 may just grow more stark, as the Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL) is keeping everyone in the dark on how this crisis will be solved.
This is an alarming scenario as BSCCL is the national bandwidth provider.
It is an international long-distance communications and international internet gateway (IIG) operator that provides various telecommunications services through the submarine cable network based in Bangladesh.
Sources say the problem will be solved after the country’s third submarine cable SEA-ME-WE-6 arrives in the middle of 2024, but after the current bandwidth validity runs out by 2022, Bangladesh just may have to look at the bleak prospect of two years without any bandwidth.
Bandwidth usage increased about 20-25% because people are using the internet for 6-8 hours a day amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the average of which was about 2 hours before the outbreak. This growing demand for internet usage will continue and is also consuming huge volumes of bandwidth, said Imdadul Haque, director of Optimax Communication, an IIG operator.
Even though the crisis is looming, BSCCL is yet to say how they will address it, he lamented.
There is an option to increase capacity of the existing SEA-ME-WE-4 and SEA-ME-WE-5 submarine cables, as the community countries for SEA-ME-WE-4 are India, Singapore, Myanmar etc. If any of the countries have no use of their cables or idle bandwidth, BSCCL could procure from them, Imdad said.
International Terrestrial Cable (ITC) operators claimed they have unlimited capacity to import bandwidth.
But it depends on the capacity of Indian submarine cables and how much bandwidth they can provide to Bangladesh.
There will be a negative impact on broadband and mobile internet users if bandwidth is not bought in time. Less bandwidth means more cost for the existing volume. Not only that, but regular digital activities such as virtual classes, meetings and digital commerce will be severely disrupted.
“About 94% internet users in Bangladesh are dependent on mobile internet. Any decrease in bandwidth will severely impact their internet experience,” said secretary general of Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB) Brig Gen SM Farhad (retd.)
There are six ITC operators in Bangladesh who both take bandwidth from BSCCL and abroad. Fiber @ Home, who import bandwidth from India, said they cover both internet service providers (ISP) and mobile network operators.
The companies will have to rely fully on Indian bandwidth if BSCCL bandwidth dwindles.
Though operators hope they can be able to fill the bandwidth scarcity through terrestrial procurement, there will be an issue of raising bandwidth price.
"We will try to buy bandwidth from India to meet the demand deficit. But the main challenge is that although BSCCL is working on a new supply, probably it will be delayed and Indian companies will try to take a chance by increasing bandwidth price," said Sumon Ahmed Sabir, chief technology officer at Fiber @ Home Ltd.
Increasing bandwidth will not cost as much. After finalizing the decision and floating tenders, the amount can be figured out, said BSCCL Managing Director Mashiur Rahman.
Currently Fiber @ Home has 240Gbps bandwidth bought through the terrestrial route, through Benapole as ITC operator and 100 Gbps bought from BSCCL as IIG operator.
Summit Communications Limited has around 850 Gbps bandwidth of which 450Gbps came through terrestrial bandwidth and NovoCom has about 100 Gbps bandwidth.
According to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), ITC operators are providing a total 1,106.895 Gbps bandwidth as of March 21 this year.
The total capacity from BSCCL and ITC at the end of March, 21 is 2,641.632 Gbps, of which BSCCL provided 1,534.737 Gbps.
Currently 2,367.89 Gbps of bandwidth is consumed in the country.
If the cost increases, the price of the internet will also increase and revenue from the industry will begin to contract, IIG operators warned.
The average price of each megabit per second (Mbps) is Tk300-350. So, the International Internet Gateway (IIG) industry revenue comes to Tk69-80.5 crore from 2,300Gbps. Of them the government gets 10% revenue, about Tk 6.9crore-8.05crore. (1Gbps=1000Mbps), which can be reduced in upcoming days, said ITC operators.
BSCCL plans to buy 600Gbps for SEA-ME-WE-4
BSCCL plans to enhance the capacity of SEA-ME-WE-4 and will buy 600 Gbps new bandwidth from abroad by 2022, that will connect from Cox's Bazar to Singapore.
It also is increasing the capacity of SEA-ME-WE-5 with the running demand and will enhance to 2,500Gbps by 2022.
According to BSCCl, about 2,600-2,700 Gbps of bandwidth is currently being used in the country, soon it will go beyond capacity. BSCCL has 2,800Gbps of capacity from its two submarine cables.
Currently 1,600Gbps is being provided by BSCCL, the rest of 1000-1100Gbps comes from India through ITC operators including Summit Communications, Fiber @ Home and Novocom.
The third undersea cable will add another 7,200 Gbps, said BSCCL insiders.
BSCCL had a target of selling 1,450 Gbps by June 2021, but it exceeded that because of the high demand amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
As demand is increasing fast, BSCCL alone cannot cover the country, said submarine cable operators.
"Currently BSCCL has 2,000-2,100 Gbps demand. We are concerned that this number will increase to 2,400-3,500 Gbps in two years. We are trying to increase the capacity of both submarines so that we can at least handle the situation,” said Mashiur Rahman.
Bangladesh was connected to the first submarine cable, SEA-ME-WE-4, in 2005, through which it received up to 180 Gbps of bandwidth and the second one, SEA-ME-WE 5, in 2017, through which it received 1,500 Gbps of bandwidth.
In the early 1990s, Bangladesh had rejected a proposal for free connection with the SEA-ME-WE 3.
According to the BSCCL, although the bandwidth of SEA-ME-We-4 will run out by next year, it can be used for 3-4 more years by enhancing its capacity as the lifespan of the first submarine cable is 20 years, which will end in 2025.
ITC, the alternative reliance
All the IIG, BSCCL, ISP and ITC operators are now waiting for the ITCs to deal with the upcoming scarcity.
"ITC operators can bring unlimited bandwidth from abroad, so we hope they can fulfill the demand and there will be no bandwidth crisis," said BSCCL MD Mashiur.
Uninterrupted flow of bandwidth is required for any internet service provider and the mobile industry is no exception to that. The mobile telecom industry always expects that the internet gateways will provide steady service at any given time, said the AMTOB secretary general.
Arif Islam, managing director and CEO of Summit Communication, also expressed his concern about the upcoming scarcity.
He mentioned that ITCs can cover the scarcity for two more years, but it is not possible to cover the growing demands with the upcoming SEA-ME-WE-6.
He urged to give permission to the private ITC industry for bringing submarine cables as an alternative.
"The first and second submarine cables cannot meet the demand as they have limited use of bandwidth. The third submarine cable also can serve for a few years. It will be great to give licenses for private industries to bring new submarine cables right now so that we do not face scarcity of bandwidth in future, Arif added.