Vol. 5 Num 1117 Sun. July 22, 2007  
Star City

BTTB fails to reap benefit from submarine cable
Officials say they lack infrastructure to offer public the benefit of this fast and efficient facility

The long awaited connectivity with international submarine cable has done little to improve the quality of internet services in the city forcing the city dwellers to depend on primitive and slow modem connections.

While the whole concept was to provide users with high speed internet connections through the submarine cable, the authorities failed to make the best out of the submarine cable connectivity due to lack of adequate resources and expertise, sources said.

According to industry experts, the problem lies with Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB). Although the submarine cable has a massive bandwidth of around 10 gigabytes per second, BTTB is only utilising a bandwidth of around 622 megabytes per second (one gigabyte equals one thousand megabytes) -- a fraction of the capacity.

The existing infrastructure available to BTTB is inadequate for handling the massive capacity, let alone any advancement in the sector in near future. The infrastructure is vulnerable to natural disturbances and security threats, said industry experts.

"Simply put, BTTB does not have the necessary equipment to utilise the large quantity of available bandwidth. This deficiency of hardware is restricting BTTB from effectively using the resources available via the submarine cable," said Hanif Bhuiyan, chief technical officer of Sirius Broadband Ltd.

Since the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have to buy bandwidth from BTTB, they are left with a limited bandwidth to distribute among a rapidly growing internet user base.

"We have bought 25 megabytes per seconds (Mbps) bandwidth from BTTB and currently having a hard time to cope with the increasing number of subscribers," said Touhidul Haque, sales and marketing official of Sirius Broadband Ltd.

Even though the ISPs receive frequent complaints about slow connectivity from their subscribers, they are unable to improve the situation because they cannot buy additional bandwidth from BTTB.

"We requested BTTB for an additional bandwidth of 19 megabytes to improve our service, but it has been months since we made the request and they are yet to do anything about it," he added.

BTTB officials however blamed the ISPs for allocating their limited bandwidth to too many subscribers.

"Since they are distributing their limited bandwidth to an inflated number of people, they are creating an enormous pressure on the network and subsequently, surfing speed at the end user point is getting reduced," said a top BTTB official concerned requesting anonymity.

BTTB sources said that they are aware of the problems faced by the ISPs and are working to improve their service. There is a scheme to acquire a back-up link with another submarine cable to give the local ISP industry a seamless overseas connection in case the existing cable links are snapped accidentally. BTTB officials believe that the scheme would come in effect within the third quarter of this year.

According to BTTB sources, the highest bandwidth used by an ISP each month is 40 Mbps -- allocated to Global Connections Ltd. Bandwidth used by other ISPs ranges from 15 Mbps to 30 Mbps. Among their users, Grameen Phone Ltd uses the highest bandwidth -- 55 Mbps.

With their limited capacity, the ISPs are having a hard time coping with the ever-increasing demand for internet service.

Interestingly, most ISPs are more or less using the catchy phrase of 'high-speed submarine cable connection' to entice new subscribers. But in reality, their general users are putting up with inconsistent surfing speeds caused by poor allocated bandwidth, erratic connectivity along with ridiculous charges.

Tanvir Karim, a visiting business student from Australia, was trying to connect to the university website to register for his courses for the next semester. After several attempts, he managed to access the university website only to get disconnected moments after -- while he was in the middle of signing up for his desired courses.

Karim slammed his desk with agony as he would have to redo the entire process.

"It is really frustrating to use the internet [here in Bangladesh] to upload or download files as it is more likely that I will have to redo the process several times. University applications or updates on reading materials for exams are usually large document files and take longer to upload or download with this sluggish internet speed," said an annoyed Tanvir Karim.

Connectivity with the submarine cable made everyone believe that it would make internet facilities available for all at a reasonably lower price, but frustratingly, the price has remained mostly unchanged. Experts believe that absence of any official pricing policy for the ISPs is the reason why the prices did not change.

Although BTTB officials admitted that pricing policy for the use of internet services is essential, they failed to provide any information on when they would introduce such a policy.

ISPs on the other hand also complained that BTTB does not provide any technical assistance after office hours. Moreover, BTTB does not even have a help line to provide assistance to ISPs.

International submarine cable has done little to speed up the slow Internet connectivity in the city. PHOTO: STAR