Glass along the Asian Highway

15 February 2011 | John Hibbard


Over the past decade, I have observed the roll out of the Interoute network in Europe. Can Asia be inspired by Interoute’s network?

Starting from a small set of links in western Europe, it has spread its tentacles slowly but steadily across the whole of Europe and now reaches Istanbul. Many of the fibre links in the network follow the main highways, and in quite a number of cases involve obtaining fibre cables from, or in conjunction with, local operators or authorities, particularly in the area of the eastern bloc.

So the question arises whether a similar terrestrial network might be progressively implemented across Asia and the Middle East to link up with various networks in Europe. With the exception of the trans-Siberian links, the connections from Asia to Europe are via submarine cable. Historically, there have been few highways, and the countries to be crossed have presented some challenges. However, we have seen links established between China and India as operators have sought more diversity to enhance mesh networking to protect themselves against failures such the interruption off the Arabian Gulf and in the Mediterranean, as well in the Luzon Strait.

Many of the Asian governments over the past decade and longer have got together to create the Asian Highway. This is a linkage of an array of domestic highways to create a continuous route across Asia to Europe. So why is it not possible to create a glass highway alongside the bitumen one? (Well, not all Asian Highway is macadam.) Piece by piece, it could be put together and with time provide a series of terrestrial connections from Japan to Turkey.

A strong champion of this idea is Abu Saeed Khan from Bangladesh, who well understands the issues of connectivity for his country and can clearly see the benefits of such a concept. Saeed explained to me that no doubt there are many issues to be resolved and that it would likely be built piecemeal, but the idea appears to have real merit.

The biggest issue is to find some suitable effective co-ordinating body to drive this to fruition. The carriers may not be the party, but aid agencies like Asian Development Bank might be. It needs someone to really drive this forward. In addition to trans-Asian links, the telecommunications of the intermediate countries will be greatly enhanced, providing them with abundant cost-effective connectivity to the global internet.

Asia needs someone to step forward to pursue this vision. I wonder who it will be.

John Hibbard is CEO of Hibbard Consulting. He can be contacted at: jhibbard@bigpond.com