‘SEAMEWE-3’:http://www.smw3.com/ is Pakistan’s main pipe to the global internet. Pakistan’s total internet bandwidth from this cable is about 600 mbps. PTCL has 3 satellite links of about 34mbps each. So, Pakistan has a grand total of 700 mbps. ISPAK says that Pakistan was getting 600mbps of connectivity from the currently broken fibre optic cable, which sounds about correct, but PTCL says that SMW3 provides 155mbits. Now, PTCL might be controlling the bandwidth, but I don’t think their cheif executive knows what he was talking about when he said the cable provided only 155mbits. 600mbps or 155mpbs, both numbers are extremely low.
This one fibre optic cable provides Pakistan’s major outer communication means – so everytime something goes wrong with it almost all communications with the rest of the world are disrupted.
From the ‘Daily Times’:http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_11-11-2004_pg7_50
bq.. …the biggest technology issue facing Pakistan is its reliance on a single undersea telecommunications cable running from the port city of Karachi to the Fujairah Landing Station on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where it initially splits into two routes on its way to Europe and the Americas.
The Fujairah-Karachi undersea cable provides high-quality voice and data transmissions but is not 100 percent reliable, leading to the use of satellite backup systems. Pakistan’s satellite telecommunications systems have limited capacity and delays of 400 to 500 milliseconds to and from the US, down from 450 to 550 milliseconds in 2002. Delays in excess of 500 milliseconds are considered unacceptable for commercial call centre traffic. This situation does not disqualify the placement of mission-critical work in Pakistan, but it might make Pakistan appear less competitive than more expensive and lower quality IT service providers elsewhere in the region.
p. As happens all to often, Pakistan went through another Internet blackout on June 26 to July 3, 2005. PTCL, as usual, could be least bothered. The repair ship they hired never sailed from Dubai, and Etisalt (PTCL’s new owner) finally sent its own repair ship. While this was happening, PTCL executives kept saying the ship was on its way, when the ship had never left Dubai in the first place. From the public anouncements PTCL made, even days after the accident, they either kept lying about the repair ship – or they had no clue as to what was going on. This really paints PTCL in a bad light.
PTCL – the less said the better. For decades, they charged an arm and a leg for basic telephone service � up till a few years ago calling rates were many times higher that other developing nations. PTCL long ago amortized the cost of their copper network, as they hardly added new connections over the years, and spend barely nothing on maintaining it. PTCL was never in the telecoms business – it was solely in the money making business, and they utilized their monopoly status to the hilt, raping the consumer at every turn. In the 90’s, Pakistan passed on two _(or is it three)_ submarine cables which were being laid, as those cables were also connecting to India. Despite the fact that for practically no cost to Pakistan there could have been multiple redundant links, the Pakistan govt. mindlessly did not sign up. ‘The Price of Paranoia:’:http://opinion.paifamily.com/?p=1510
bq. The simple fact is that Pakistan�s military establishment, which ran the government and PTCL for the last several years, did not plan for such an eventuality. It compounded that mistake by regulating the satellite gateway business � making it illegal for private providers to operate their own gateways.
While the Pakistan govt. and PTCL executives are still grappling to understand what this internet thing is, and it’s importance, the IT sector is up in flames. To make matters worse, PTCL continues to cover up the severity of the problem, claiming it has put ‘adequate’ backup systems in place.
bq. Falsifying PTCL’s claim that a back-up Internet link was being provided through the V-SAT satellite with enhanced bandwidth, Furrukh Aslam, another call centre operator, said, “they are simply lying……we have had complete link down for the first three days while today on fourth day we are only having 10 per cent of the connectivity with a bad quality.”
Companies like AirBlue, rely on the internet for much of its bookings. PTCL is claiming that it is now providing full bandwidth to such companies over ‘backup’ satellite links. They are trumpeting this like they deserve a cookie or something. This is just a minor incident in the larger scheme of things, but it really shows how little PTCL comprehends the internet. When AirBlue’s customers can’t use the internet, what does it matter if PTCL is providing full bandwidth to AirBlue? It’s not like people in Canada are booking flights on a domestic only Pakistani airline. What about banks? Many people have come to depend on the internet banking facilities local banks have started offering. Pakistan’s export oriented industries, like the textile sector, have also come to depend on the internet, for everything from email to sending specifications, order updates etc.
The ongoing Internet breakdown in Pakistan has hit the country’s dream of matching India’s standards in the Information Technology (IT) and ‘call centre’:http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_5-7-2005_pg1_10 business, as it damaged Pakistan’s credibility with the international IT community, IT experts in the country say. No duh.
One official looked at the bright side: _”Pakistan does not have a place on the global map of out-sourcing so the impact has not been that great”._ What he cannot understand is that this sort of approach is one of the reasons Pakistan doesn’t have a place on the global out-sourcing map. While the govt. was looking at the bright side of things, business leaders were ‘saying’:http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=42756&version=1&template_id=41&parent_id=23 that _the disruption of Internet services in Pakistan due to a fault in the undersea cable has badly affected shipping, aviation, import and export activities and other sectors of the economy._
Will any of the companies and users badly affected by this disruption get any ‘compensation?’:http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_2-7-2005_pg7_6 No. As is the norm with govt. agencies, PTCL is going around complaining: “We are already bearing an extra cost to arrange alternatives,” said Mashkoor Hussain, senior executive vice president PTCL. Well no duh – but what does that have to do with compensating PTCL customers suffering due to PTCL’s fault?
In more backwardness, if I try to connect to a Pakistani website, hosted in Pakistan, then most times the request is routed around the world first – one of the reasons locally hosted sites are slow to open in Pakistan is because the data packets first leave the country and enter back in.
It doesn’t end here. One would think there are just so many things PTCL could do wrong, but they keep proving otherwise. PTCL spokesman Anwar Bhatti attributed the delay in the arrival of the repair ship to the *lack of insurance cover, because of which it could not sail in rain or bad weather.* This really boggles the mind. Here is an entire country disconnected from the rest of the world, and PTCL can’t even pay insurance charges for the repair ship? Murphy famously said: “If anything can go wrong, it will”, but he hadn’t seen PTCL at work otherwise he would have added “If things can be fucked up further, then fucked they shall be”.
h4. enough of the bad news
I am going to stop listing all the things done wrong now, as it is getting tiring. Some people will no doubt say that I am painting PTCL in a overly bad light, but I have actually left out -some- a lot of the more moronic things they’ve done. The famous quote goes “Truth is stranger than fiction”, and Pakistani govt. agencies regularly prove it by doing things so badly that no person who hasn’t seem them at work can readily believe it – they keep saying that things can’t actually be that bad. Sadly, events prove otherwise. Still, one has to give PTCL some credit – some people think this last fuckup was a ‘cable tap’:http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2005/050218-uss-carter.htm by the USA ‘gone wrong’:http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/06/28/1740216. Anyways, on to the good news:
There is one more undersea fibreoptic cable in the works: ‘SEAMEWE4’:http://www.seamewe4.com/, which -should be operation by Dec 2005- has become ‘operational as of January 2006’:http://www.brecorder.com/index.php?id=372570&currPageNo=1&query=&search=&term=&supDate=.
bq. The South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) project is the fourth project in the SEA-ME-WE series. On 27th March 2004, a consortium of 16 international telecommunications companies signed construction and maintenance agreements for the new optical fibre submarine cable system linking South East Asia to Europe via the Indian Sub-Continent and Middle East with Terminal Stations in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, *Pakistan,* United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Italy, Tunisia, Algeria and France. The contract is being awarded jointly to Alcatel Submarine Networks, France and Fujitsu Ltd., Japan and the estimated project cost is of the order of US$ 500 million.
There is hope yet for Pakistani internet. Construction is ‘nearing completion’:http://www.ameinfo.com/62470.html, and the Karachi landing point has already been established. SEAMEWE3 has a capacity of 70gbps, and Pakistan only has a 600 mbps link from that – it remains to be seen how much bandwidth Pakistan will get from SEAMEWE4. Considering it has a terabit plus capacity, Pakistan should get at least a 100gbps link. It will most likely be between 1 to 10bgps – which is a vast increase over the current link. One has to keep in mind though, that this one link will not be ‘enough’:http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass_pr.html:
bq. …These numbers really knock ’em dead in the phone industry. To anyone who spends much time messing around with computer networks, they seem distinctly underwhelming. All this trouble and expense for a measly 8 Gbps? You’ve got to be kidding! Again, it comes down to a radical difference in perspective between telephony people and internet people.
To paraphrase from this wonderfully detailed ‘Wired magazine article on submarine cables’:http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass_pr.html: *outfits like PTCL don’t really grok the Internet. The undersized cables they are running reflect their myopic outlook.* PTCL sat on its ass for 10 years till the shit hit the fan. Etisilat has already said it’s going to be providing hi-speed internet access throughout the country. PTCL has been saying that for many years already, but what PTCL means is ‘only for those able to pay ten thousand times the going international rate, and that too only if you beg nicely’. Etisalat has entered at a nice time, with a lot more bandwidth coming online in the near future, so hopefully things should increase greatly in the next few months.
A ‘thirdfibre optic link’:http://tech.one.com.pk/?q=node/47 is in the planning stages, and will run from Lahore, Pakistan to Amritsar, India. PTCL claims it has already begun laying the cable up to the border with India. Pakistan is commited to completing this cable, as the govt. keeps making moise about it. ‘Orascom Telecom’:http://www.orascomtelecom.com/, the parent company of Mobilink, which is infamous for its amazingly bad cellphone service, is also laying a 1,200 kilometer 20 Gigabit per second fibreoptic cable from Karachi to Fujairah.
h4. TWA-1 Undersea Cable Network
Tyco Telecommunications has completed its multi-million dollar turnkey contract with Transworld Associates for the TWA-1 Undersea Cable Network. The system, the first privatised cable network to land in Pakistan, will link Karachi in Pakistan, Fujairah in the UAE and Al Seeb Muscat in Oman. The initial implementation of the network includes two fibre pairs connecting the three landings in a trunk and branch arrangement, with each fibre pair initially commissioned to carry 10gbits/sec. This dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) undersea fibre optic cable system is more than 1,200km long and capable of carrying up to 1.28tbits/sec of transmission capacity when fully upgraded.
The other good news is by the time all this bandwidth available, ‘WiMax’:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WiMax should be a viable technology. Already a few providers are talking about implementing WiMax. This is important because the copper networks throughout the country are completly messed up, thus the crying need for any good wireless tech for the last mile.
h4. further reading
* ‘NYTimes: New Undersea Cable Projects Face Some Old Problems’:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/10/business/10cable.html?ei=5007&en=4917b284ed84e9ed&ex=1399608000&partner=USERLAND&pagewanted=all&position= * ‘Wired: Mother Earth Mother Board’:http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass_pr.html :: The hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, chronicling the laying of the longest wire on Earth.
fn1. It’s hard to get exact numbers. The government and PTCL give different numbers at different times.