China, India build links through high-speed cable

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2009, 12:00am

Despite their often-strained ties, China and India are jointly creating a new kind of Silk Road - one built with high-speed, fibre-optic communications systems - through a narrow Himalayan mountain pass that connects the two countries.

Tata Communications, India's biggest telecommunications company, and fixed-line network giant China Telecom Corp are poised to launch the second direct terrestrial communications link between the neighbouring economies.

The first terrestrial fibre-optic connection over the same Himalayan route was opened in August by China Telecom and Reliance Communications, which operates India's most extensive fibre-optic infrastructure and the world's largest private undersea cable system.

The land links are expected to help boost bilateral trade, which rose 34 per cent year on year to US$51.8 billion last year.

More importantly, it could become a symbol of rapprochement between the two countries, whose armies fought a border war over the Himalayas in 1962.

'The India-China terrestrial cable connection will go a long way in meeting the business needs of the world's two fastest-emerging economies,' said Byron Clatterbuck, a senior vice-president for global transmission services at Tata Communications.

Clatterbuck said planning and construction of the link began about two years ago after Beijing and New Delhi reopened the Nathu La pass in June 2006 through a series of trade agreements.

The pass had been sealed since the 1962 conflict.

Nathu La, at an altitude of 4,310 metres, links the Tibetan border town of Yadong to the city of Siliguri in the Darjeeling district in the Indian state of West Bengal.

The Tata and Reliance fibre-optic cable systems with China Telecom are designed to deliver high-speed and high-capacity connection to both countries' key cities and rural areas.

Previously, the only available option for high-bandwidth network connection between the mainland and India was through a submarine cable system through Hong Kong or Singapore.

The disruption to communications services in the Asia-Pacific because of recent typhoons and earthquakes has clearly exposed the risk of depending solely on those undersea routes.

'The new terrestrial India-China route expands the options we provide our customers, who require diverse connectivity between China and India and a way to bring more capacity from India to Asia and Asia to Europe,' said Clatterbuck.

The Tata-China Telecom terrestrial system is 500 kilometres long with 24 fibres inside the cable, according to Clatterbuck. He said one fibre-optic link would initially be available at 10 gigabits per second transmission capacity.

'At a 10Gbps speed, a user can transfer a 1.5-gigabyte movie in less than two seconds between India and China,' he said.

The Reliance-China Telecom cable, which has an initial capacity of 20Gbps, stretched about 250 kilometres from the border pass to India. The length on the mainland carrier's side is not known.

While their carriers are strengthening the digital bonds between the two countries, tensions on the trade front remain.

In September, reports of India's plan to restrict the sale and use of Chinese-made telecommunications equipment in the country because of security concerns again tested the two countries' economic ties.


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