Tag Archives: TeleGeography

Wiring East Asia: increased fiber optic links over the years (maps)

About a year ago, I wrote about the limited “internet entrepôts of China,” those landing places where digital transmissions come ashore in fiber optic lines. I’ve long depended on the excellent maps from Telegeography to visualize the physical linkages that underlie the supposedly etherial network, and they’ve got a new map out. I just clipped a little (you should really look at the whole thing), but you can see that the cable network in East Asia and across the Pacific is increasingly dense. (This year’s map first, last year’s second.)

See also, from 2008, my take on the Trans-Pacific Express cable, which had just gained U.S. approval. A map from the Technology Review:

As airfare soars, transpacific data prices plummet

Anyone who has watched airfare prices between the United States and East Asia in recent years has noticed a pronounced rise. A year ago, this correspondent found it more affordable to fly from Beijing to Istanbul and then Istanbul to New York instead of a direct flight.

Data prices from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo to Los Angeles have dropped significantly over the last year:

Data from TeleGeography’s Wholesale Bandwidth Pricing Database reveal that trans-Pacific circuit prices have plummeted over the past two years. Between Q2 2009 and Q2 2011, the median monthly lease price for a 10 Gbps wavelength from Los Angeles to Tokyo fell 63 percent, from $98,500 to $36,000. Prices are tumbling on other trans-Pacific routes, too: Over the past 12 months, median 10 Gbps wavelength prices from Los Angeles to Singapore fell 33 percent, while Hong Kong-Los Angeles 10 Gbps prices declined 39 percent.
Median Trans-Pacific 10 Gbps Wavelength Prices, Q2 2010-Q2 2011

A key driver of falling trans-Pacific circuit costs has been the construction of three new undersea cables since 2007: The Asia-America Gateway (2008), Trans-Pacific Express (2009),[1] and Unity (2010) cable systems. The construction of these cables introduced both new capacity and a host of new competitors.

For selfish reasons, I would prefer airfare to drop as well. But for environmental reasons, and for the purposes of a faster and more reliable transpacific internet experience, I’m glad to see this infrastructure coming online.

[1] The Trans-Pacific Express was originally slated for completion before the 2008 Olympics, but it is notable as a direct U.S.–China link, which required FCC approval.

The internet entrepôts of China: back to the 19th century?

For centuries, and especially since the mid-19th century, entrepôts have been important sites of communication—both information and goods—between China and the outside world. Now, many of the same cities are sites of the grand digital switches that connect China to the global internet.

I’ve noted before the interesting work of TeleGeography, a firm that produces maps and other information on telecommunications infrastructure. This year, their world undersea cables map has been released as a huge JPEG image, and it shows us something about China’s communications with the outside world.

Clipped from TeleGeography. Click for their map.

Shanghai, Hong Kong, Qingdao and Shantou. And soon, Fuzhou. These are the connection points for the People’s Republic of China, and they were all treaty ports, where foreign areas of control existed and international trade grew.

The analogy to the treaty ports has been suggested by several writers. One, Han-Teng Liao, noted Aihwa Ong’s notion of variegated sovereignty and proposes the idea of “special speech zones.” These “SSZs” are cites of informational interchange. The difference is that the SSZs are not geographically bounded; rather, they reside in online spaces where relatively free speech is possible.

As Ella Chou recently noted (in her very interesting contribution on cybersecurity), China only has a few ports between China and the outside internet—nine at last report in 2008, she writes. These choke points, one speculates, could allow for a government-directed shut-down of most international online communication.

This leverage points out a key difference with the entrepôts and treaty ports of the 19th century: Back then, the foreign influence was inscribed in physical space, with exclusive areas of control and entrenched foreign populations. Sure, expatriates are numerous in many Chinese cities today, but they do not live in autonomous zones. The potential for increased control in a crisis seems clear here.

That’s all from me. But look at that map.