Submarine cable: An overview of products, services and business potentials in Bangladesh

--Engr. Md. Monwar Hossain and Parvez M. Ashraf

Md. MonwarParvez

Bangladesh possesses great potentials in the ICT and Telecommunication sectors. As we are regularly experiencing, there is an increasing trend of using computers and availing mobile phone facilities or even the Tabs in the rural areas as in the urban areas of the Country. Bangladesh has got natural competitive advantage in terms of manpower, location and cost for establishing very promising Call Center or Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industries. Many young talents of the Country are already involved in IT related jobs like- Programming, Software development and outsourcing works, and thus the Software industry in Bangladesh has become flourishing with the continuous and restless efforts of the energetic Bangladeshi entrepreneurs within the last few years. Opening and widening up the opportunities with proper Government initiatives and support of the private sector can build a strong IT based infrastructure. The global ICT market has already appraised about the skills and standards of the Bangladeshi talents. However, all these services and activities related to IT would depend heavily on the internet and International data connectivity. Presently there are around 120 million mobile phone users and around 44 million Internet users in the country. In addition to usage of mobile phones for voice calls, there is a substantial increase in internet usage through mobile communications in rural and urban areas. ICT and Telecommunication services are getting increasingly popular to the people because these sectors have contributed much in changing their economic condition to a higher level. It is because of the Submarine Cable, that various service providers such as IIG, IGW, BWA, etc. have been benefitted and Internet traffic for both Voice and Data has increased exponentially in Telecommunication industry of Bangladesh. With the efficient and effective utilization of the enormous potentials of the Submarine Cable, the Telecommunications and ICT sector promises a significant contribution to the economy of Bangladesh to boost the nation into a middle income country soon.

Role of the Submarine Cable in Expansion of Broadband Internet in Bangladesh

In the past, before the submarine cable era started in Bangladesh, the long distance telecommunication of Bangladesh was dependent on Satellite systems with severe limitation of bandwidth and speed of communication. We have become aware now that the availability of Internet with high magnitude of bandwidth has great impact on the economic development of the country. Becoming a member of South East Asia- Middle East-Western Europe-4 (SEA-ME-WE-4) consortium, Bangladesh received initial capacity of 7.5 Gbps. Presently, capacity of Bangladesh in SEA-ME-WE-4 submarine Cable System of BSCCL is around 200 Gbps. In recent years, as a result of connecting with submarine cable system there were rapid expansions of the broadband internet industry, resulting in over 180 registered ISP’s by 2005 and the number of Internet subscriptions grew from 186,000 in 2000 to 617,300 in 2009. According to official reports, in Bangladesh the total number of Internet Subscribers has reached 36.25 million at the end of August 2013 which is around 23% of the total population.

The Submarine Cable under BSCCL could provide services to the subscribers at much cheaper price than others as BSCCL would be able to connect many international IP transit points with its own submarine cable system. Bangladesh would expect good revenue earnings by introducing licenses for these services. As a result of connecting with the submarine cable system there were rapid expansions of the broadband internet industry. Keeping the “Vision 2021, Digital Bangladesh” in view, the Government of Bangladesh has exclusive plans to extend the broadband internet and telecommunication facilities for the benefits of the people as elaborated in Government’s ILDTS (International Long Distance Telecommunication Service), Broadband and ICT Policies: the Broadband Penetration rate required to be pulled up from 7% (2011) to 30% within year 2015, by 2015, all the union councils are needed to be under the broadband network, by 2013, about 1.7 million educational institutions (schools and colleges) were supposed to be provided with broadband connections, etc. Already the DCs (District Commissioners) and ADCs are connected; and 1000 Union Councils would be connected through optical fibers and fiber optic connectivity will reach Upazilla Health Centers to provide access to information, video conferencing, telemedicine, etc. The Government has formulated the new standard of Broadband and the bandwidth has to be at least 5 Mbps to meet that standard. To implement the policies and the Vision 2021, a large amount of bandwidth needs to be made available to the Government which will be provided by the Submarine Cable.

After catering for the needs for bandwidth inside the country, Bangladesh has still got opportunities to lease out submarine cable bandwidth to land locked neighboring countries like Nepal and Bhutan. BSCCL is presently working to design for links to Indian North-Eastern provinces for transport of IP transit as below;

(a) Cox’s Bazar – Chittagong – Comilla – B. baria – Akhaura – Agortola

(b) Cox’s Bazar – Chittagong – Comilla – B. baria – Sylhet – Tamabil – Shilong (Meghalaya).

There is a demand of BSCCL bandwidth in Myanmar also. If BSCCL could be involved to tap the Telecom requirements of those parts of the Globe, it could earn a good deal of foreign currency during the life-times of the submarine cables.

Principal products and services of BSCCL

Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL) is an International Long Distance Communications and International Internet Gateway (IIG) operator that provides various Telecommunications services through the Submarine Cable network.

BSCCL has a Submarine Cable Landing Station located at Jhilongja, Cox¡¦s Bazar from where Backhaul Service Providers are connected. Clients can connect their fiber optic cable for IPLC (International Private Leased Circuits) service from co-location centers (Presently at Chittagong, Mohakhali/Dhaka and Moghbazar) of Backhaul Service Providers. Moreover, with a view to provide multiple options for backhaul connectivity, a co-location centre has been established in Cox’s bazar landing station. BSCCL’s valued clients can choose their backhaul providers who could directly connect their fibers at the co-location centers of BSCCL. BSCCL is the root service provider of submarine cable bandwidth and handles country¡¦s only submarine cable. Presently, BSCCL is providing the following services:

w Bandwidth service for different routes and different levels such as STM-1, STM-4, STM-16 to the International Internet Gateway (IIG) companies through International Private Leased Circuits (IPLC).

w  Bandwidth service for different routes and different levels such as STM-1, STM-4, STM-16 to the International (Voice) Gateway (IGW) companies.

w IP Transit Services to IIG companies

w IPLC services to any Corporate Customers as per the approval of telecommunications regulatory body of Bangladesh.

w IIG (International Internet Gateway) which should help the people to get broadband Internet with cheaper rate and better quality of service.

Presently, the Company offers the following products

1. IPLC (International Private Leased Circuit) for IIG

2. IPLC (International Private Leased Circuit) for IGW

3. IPLC (International Private Leased Circuit) with IP Transit for IIG

4. IIG (International Internet Gateway) Services for ISP

5. Dedicated Leased Circuits for Corporate Clients

An International Private Leased Circuit (IPLC) is a dedicated end-to-end connectivity between any two points of locations. It is suitable for IIG, IGW and also for International & National Organizations/ Corporations (who require reliable & secure links with committed bandwidth for data/ voice/ video/ internet communications between their offices).

Key Benefits of BSCCL’s IPLC and Internet Gateway services are the following:

1)         High Bandwidth Dedicated Full Duplex Digital Communication

2)         Private, Reliable & Secure

3)         Fast, Efficient & Error free

4) Global Reach through India, Malaysia, Singapore, Middle East & Europe.

5)         One Stop Shopping Facilities

6)         24 x 7 Tech Support

7)         Constant exchange of Data, Voice, Video, etc. in large volumes & in various formats between multiple destinations.

Joining with the Second Submarine Cable

Existing SMW-4 cable is the only submarine cable that has kept Bangladesh connected with the international information superhighway. Due to any calamity or other reasons, if this cable gets into any kind of physical damage or disruption, country’s international long distance telecommunication would suffer badly. That’s why Bangladesh has been working for long to achieve redundancy for the existing SEA-ME-WE-4 (SMW-4) Submarine Cable as it is a necessity for the country to support for Internet and voice traffic during outage in the SMW-4 cable.

The new SEA-ME-WE-5 (SMW-5) cable will be another submarine cable connecting South East Asia with Western Europe through Middle East and Africa. The cable would also be extended to Hong Kong and Japan. Bangladesh will join as a branch party to this submarine cable. BSCCL worked with the SMW-5 Consortium for implementation of a Branch Sharing arrangement with Myanmar through the “Branch on Branch” architecture, which has helped Bangladesh to reduce the cost in a significant way.

SMW-5 Submarine Cable System will be a 100G DWDM based 20,000 Km long repeatered system that is planned to connect eighteen (18) landing stations. The system will be built with three (3) fiber pairs having 80 ë/fiber-pair (ë, pronounced as “lambda”, is the Greek letter for wavelength of Light), so 80 x 100 Gbps = 8 (eight) Terabits per second capacity for each fiber pair; thus providing a very high design capacity of 24 Terabits per second.

The technology that made this 100 G transmission possible is Polarization Multiplexed QPSK modulation (PM-QPSK) with a coherent receiver. Modulation is required to ensure propagation, to perform multiple accesses and to enhance the SNR, as well as to achieve bandwidth compression. PM-QPSK modulation technique would decrease the baud or symbol rate of the system, using four bits per symbol, keeping the optical spectrum four times narrower than the unreduced baud rate. Because of the capability to pass through multiple Optical Add-Drop Multiplexers (OADMs) and its practical PMD (Polarization Mode Dispersion) tolerance, PM-QPSK is recognized as a viable format for deployment within 50GHz-spaced systems.

Alcatel-Lucent of France and NEC of Japan have been selected for jointly work on building the system. Both suppliers will use their latest high performance equipments, cable and systems using efficient DWDM, Polarization Division Multiplexed Digital Phase Modulation/ Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (PDM-QPSK or DP-QPSK) and Coherent detection technologies, with highly flexible ROADMs (Reconfigurable Optical Add-Drop Multiplexer) along the links.

The Submarine Line Terminal Equipments (SLTEs) will handle very high speed traffic transported to a long distance; and the system will be extremely reliable with sufficient protection schemes and high speed automatic protection switching.

Advantages of joining the SMW-5 Consortium

Joining the SMW-5 cable consortium is expected to bring about a number of benefits for both BSCCL as a submarine cable company, and Bangladesh, as a country. Some of those benefits are described below:

(i)         For extending the voice traffic to different parts of the World particularly Middle East, Europe and America, Bangladesh can have chances to reach these destinations almost without any extra charges.

(ii)        For IP Transit, Bangladesh would have multi-choices to bring IP bandwidth at a cheaper rate covering both east & west side destinations. This means that BSCCL shall have better opportunity to arrange its traffic (IP) from cheaper destinations of East & West.

(iii)       Bangladesh as a country would enjoy the total benefit of redundancy of the circuits & also the multiple destinations for SMW-5.

(iv)       The unit cost for bandwidth would be much cheaper in case of SMW-5 cable. Moreover, the adaptation of future technology for future expansion can be easy approachable.

(v)        There would be a very good opportunity to flourish BPO industries (Call centers, data entry, Software export etc) in Bangladesh with the support of two submarine cable communication systems.

An additional plan has also been made by BSCCL to interconnect the two submarine cable Landing Stations of Bangladesh with a submarine cable. In this way, the two landing stations Cox’s Bazar (for SMW-4) and Kuakata (for SMW-5) will be interlinked. The estimated length of this link is estimated as of the length of 350 Km. It is planned to be made of 2 (two) fiber pairs with an initial capacity of 100 Gbps/per fiber pair and 16 Tbps as design capacity. Other important feature proposed in this submarine cable system is that this would be a repeater less system with a design life of about 25 years. The two submarine cable systems will also be interconnected through a terrestrial DWDM backbone. However, there are vulnerabilities of cable cuts at any location along the route of the terrestrial system, and the interconnection through both the Submarine Cable and Terrestrial System working as a ring will ensure the strong security and redundancy in the Submarine Cable Infrastructure of Bangladesh which will keep the core communication infrastructure seamlessly connected to the Information Superhighway.


The network of submarine or undersea cables around the earth has made today’s broadband internet very fast. It further holds the potential of offering more data transmission capacity. The global network of today is made of extensive undersea submarine and terrestrial network segments linked together to connect almost all continents of the world. With the development of branching units, more than one destination can be served by a single cable system. Now-a-days, a vast majority of the international traffic is carried by the submarine cables. The reliability of submarine cables is considered high, as multiple paths can be made available in the event of a cable break. Also, the typical information carrying capacity of a single optical fiber in the submarine cables is several terabits per second (Tbps) with such small latencies as just a few milliseconds (ms). It is almost impossible for any other system to match with these submarine cable systems in terms of signal quality, bit-rate (capacity) and latency. Thus, there is a good demand for the optical submarine cable links and these have become national assets to the owner countries.


1.         Alcatel:

2.         NEC: en/global/prod/nw/submarine/index.html Fig.7: Proposed DWDM Interconnecting Submarine Cable and Terrestrial Transmission Backbone between SMW4 & SMW5

3.         Optical Internetworking Forum:

4.         Telegeography: www.telegeography. com

5.         Suboptic Forum:

6.         Infinera:

7.         Optical Fiber Telecommunications part V- vol. B (Systems and Networks) edited by I. P. Kaminow,T. Li & A. E. Willner

8.         Performance of Dual-Polarization QPSK for Optical Transport Systems by K. Roberts, M. O’Sullivan, K. T. Wu, H. Sun, A. Awadalla, D. J. Krause, & C. Laperle

9. Latest Technology of Optical Transmission System (40G/100G Solutions) Deployed in SMW-4 Submarine Cable Upgrade and the Bandwidth Situation in Bangladesh by Md. Monwar Hossain & Parvez M. Ashraf (published in Teletech 2011)

10.       Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (100 G Solution) adopted in SMW-5 Submarine Cable System – What is in the Laboratory for Higher Bandwidth Solution? by Md. Monwar Hossain & Parvez M. Ashraf (published in Teletech 2012)

11.       Use of Advanced Optical Transmission Technologies for Redundancy in the Submarine Cable Systems of Bangladesh by Md. Monwar Hossain & Parvez M. Ashraf (published in Teletech 2013)

12.       Joining Bangladesh with the Second Submarine Cable (SEA-ME-WE-5) by Md. Monwar Hossain & Parvez M. Ashraf (published in Teletech 2014)

13. Acknowledgment: Mr. Md. Zakirul Alam, DGM (Development), BSCCL for Information & diagrams on SMW-5 Project & Mr. Abdul Wahhab, DGM (IIG), BSCCL for the Information & diagrams on IIG and IP Transit Setups.