How Fast is Fast?

Kambes Kesolei of the Pacific Note asked some great questions:

  1. Once the fiber optic is rolled out to customers, at its top speed, how is it different as compared to the top speed from the O3b satellite connection?

  2. And can we say we’ll have an all-weather connectivity?

  3. And how is it going to change the experience of users?

Now, I am going to spell some things differently because I am an Aussie. So please forgive me for that. I am sure you will get my drift.

My answer was:

Thank you for your interest.

  1. Fibre optic cable can carry vastly more capacity that any satellite connection. A single pair of optical fibres (one carries traffic in one direction, the other the opposite direction) can support 11 Terabits / sec using commercially available equipment today. In contrast, a satellite connection such as O3B can only support 700 Megabits / sec per transponder. Even if all 8 transponders were dedicated to Palau, that is a total of just 5.6 Gigabits / sec. So, a single pair of fibres can support 2000 times the capacity of the whole O3B system. However, that is only in the realm of theory, since Palau does not use the whole capacity of O3B, just part of the capacity of a single transponder.

    BSCC will not be able to utilise the full potential of its fibres either. That is because the branch cable from Palau joins into a much bigger trunk network, where we have to buy capacity for onward transport to Guam. So, while our branch to Palau can support multiple Tbits / sec, we have bought 500 Gbits / sec on the trunk. Our initial “lit” (ie in service) capacity will be 100 Gbits / sec. That is still huge compared to the actual satellite capacity currently servicing Palau, which is less than 500 Mbit per second.

    So, in summary, on day one we will have the potential to support over 200 times the current Palau international capacity usage. Optical fibre technology is vastly more capable than satellite in terms of capacity, and it is faster, too. In the telecoms business we call this latency, the milliseconds taken for data to travel from one point to another. A submarine cable will follow the nearest thing to a straight line between the two points, while a satellite signal has to travel up to and down from the satellite as well.

  2. Satellite signals are subject to raid fade, that is, decibel loss because of cloud and rain, which can and does impact service quality. A submarine fibre optic cable has no vulnerability to any weather conditions. Quality of service will therefore be considerably improved, since it does rain a lot in Palau. Of course, service quality for the end consumer will also be determined by the quality of their retail Service Provider’s network in Palau.

  3. BSCC, as a wholesaler of capacity, does not directly impact the consumer experience. What we will do is bring huge capacity, higher quality, and significantly lower costs for retail Service Providers. It will be up to the Service Providers to translate this into a much better consumer experience eg by dropping prices, and supporting higher bandwidth products.

    A good example of what this might mean is in the field of medicine. It is not possible to send an MRI series (about 6 Gigabytes of data) over satellite in any reasonable length of time, because the image is very high definition, and the bandwidth is not available. An MRI could be sent over the submarine cable in less than a second.

    In order to realise the potential of BSCCnet, Service Providers will have to make sure that their networks and their products are able to accommodate very large increases in data traffic, and that their pricing is low enough to stimulate further growth. As BSCC sales volumes increase, our bit / sec prices fall.

Then I thought some further clarification might be helpful.

Current retail internet connections in Palau can be measured in Kilobits per second (Kbits / sec). Might be 200 Kbit / sec with a following wind.

There are 1000 Kbits / sec in a Megabit per second. A typical home internet connection in Australia might be 12 Mbits / sec.

There are 1000 Mbits / sec in a Gigabit per second. A superfast commercial internet connection in a highly developed market might in rare instances be 1 Gbit / sec.

There are 1000 Gbits / sec in a Terabit per second, which is the unit we use for optical fibres these days.

In practical terms, a clinic in Palau might expect to have a 25 Mbit / sec connection (in an ideal world, not necessarily immediately), so a 6 Gigabyte MRI file = 48 Gigabits, so it might take a half hour to send. Which is still a lot better than satellite, where the answer is “Forget it”. That would be a very large MRI file, I believe, but I am not a doctor.

Meanwhile, the Cable Landing Station work is progressing on schedule, likely the site will be ready for the module’s arrival in early May. That means we are on track with the main project construction schedule.

There will be a couple of new faces in town next week – Paul McCann, the vastly experienced principal of McCann Consulting International, which is the BSCC’s Project Management Unit, and Sibesh Battacharya, who is the Asian Development Bank’s project manager. They will be in Palau to review progress and map out actions with the BSCC Board.