Telecoms: Bangkok, Beijing and bandwidth

Asia is far from being one homogeneous zone when it comes to telecomms infrastructure

Asia is far from being one homogeneous zone when it comes to telecomms infrastructure

"We're going into Asia," says Big Boss. But any fantasies you might have of chirping insects, coconut palms and sun-drenched beaches quickly give way to thoughts of network diagrams, server mirroring schemes, and bills with a lot of zeros.

"Whereabouts in Asia?" you manage to respond, after the initial panic subsides. "Sales says the best location for our HQ is in the exact geographic centre of Asia: Bangkok." It's worse than you thought.

This scenario is being played out in countless offices around the world. While there may be many reasons for Big Boss's enthusiasm, they usually involve either making money or saving money. But if your established systems don't work properly between all your offices, the only thing you'll be doing with your money is watching it go down the drain.

An Asian expansion decision is clearly one that has to be made with the complete buy-in of the CTO, not by a bunch of sales guys and then passed on to the CTO as a fait accompli. But then, you knew this already.

It's not uncommon for Internet companies eager to get in on the 'fastest expanding market in the world' to decide to set up in Beijing. However, the connection speed between China and the rest of the world is flaky at best. So how do you keep your regional offices connected, and where on earth are you going to put your Web servers?

Things are improving, though. Five years ago, Hong Kong and Singapore were the only two realistic choices for setting up an Asian HQ. The telephone infrastructure would move traffic reasonably rapidly around each city and across the ocean to the US. But to go between the two cities, you would still find yourself bouncing through the US because there were no local connections in Asia. In Thailand at that time, the highest speed at which you could connect to your ISP was 9,600bps. For smaller countries, that probably represented the sum total of their international bandwidth.

Connecting Asian offices became a lot faster and easier with the arrival of companies like Digital Island and Global Crossing, which provide private alternatives to the Internet, and other initiatives to increase bandwidth such as that of Flag Telecom. And recently I had my own private celebration when my local Hong Kong ISP opened up a direct circuit between HK and London so I could watch my stock prices plummet in real-time.

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