Both Phuentsholing and Gelephu internet gateways fall under the same Mumbai-Siliguri link which if disrupted will lead to a failure of internet services in Bhutan
The much awaited second internet gateway for Bhutan was finally lit on March 26, 2012 but there is already a question mark on its long term reliability. This is because if a failure occurs along the Siliguri-Mumbai connection then both internet gateways will be non-functional.
The first gateway from Phuentsholing and the now launched second gateway from Gelephu both merge in Siliguri (West Bengal), before the link continues to the city of Mumbai and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean, where it joins a submarine cable.
Information Technology experts say that though rare, the failure of the Mumbai-Siliguri link would be inevitable at some point or the other given the current trend of cable failures.
Since Bhutan had only one existing international gateway at Phuentsholing, a second gateway’s primary objective was to ensure redundancy which meant Bhutan should have 24/7 connectivity even if one link fails.
Department of information technology and telecom (DITT) Director, Phuntsho Tobgay said, “the internet link for Bhutan would fail should something happen to the Phuentsholing gateway, so redundancy will be improved by putting up this second gateway at Gelephu which reduces the chances of network failure”.
However, since both international internet gateways ultimately amalgamate in Siliguri, if one link fails because of the Siliguri- Mumbai connection, the other is bound to be down too which makes it obvious that 24/7 connection is still impossible.
A concern here is that since the second gateway also comes from Mumbai to Siliguri like the first gateway it could affect Thimphu Tech Park’s chances in attracting international companies.
Admitting the problem, Phuntsho Tobgay said, “If a particular area through which the lines are coming happens to fail, connectivity to Bhutan gets cut off. So, viable alternative international redundancy could be explored via Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh”.
This third gateway which will route through Cox Bazaar and eventually the Pacific Ocean is being pursued by the MOIC and government. This could materialize in the next two to three years. The third gateway will connect to the second gateway in Gelephu. Until then Bhutan will have to cross it’s fingers.
The Cox’s Bazaar Cable Landing Station is currently the sole international submarine cable landing station in Bangladesh which links at Singapore.
The government has initiated discussions with the governments of India and Bangladesh. Once the third gateway extension is operational, it will mean much better viability for huge international IT and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) companies looking to rent space at the Thimphu Tech Park (TTP).
Phuntsho Tobgay said, “The next effort we are looking at is to further link the second gateway via Cox bazaar as Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) already have existing networks in the north-east”.
In addition to the gateway challenge, MOIC is also working on the cost of leased lines (ICT services). The challenge is to adjust the cost of connectivity and make it comparable to the rates with other South Asian nations.
So far for Bhutan, it has never been easy to set up call centers in the country as BPOs rely heavily on cheaper, faster and better telecommunications, relayed via satellite or fiber optic cables.
Phuntsho said, “We are looking at making the rates comparable to India, if not in the region”. Internet costs are hugely dependent on customer demand with lesser cost for more demand. However, the ministry is looking for strategies to bring down cost in the face of minimal demand. Apart from low costs, reliability of internet connectivity is also a prerequisite for international and domestic companies to setup shop in Bhutan.
The second gateway connectivity was made possible by PGCIL which implemented the project free of cost on the request of the MOIC and RGOB. PGICL strung 50 km fiber links between Gelephu and Bongaigon (Assam) which was completed in March 2011.
To facilitate connectivity within Bhutan, Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) completed a 41-Km fiber link from Tsirang to Gelephu.