Intra-Asia Internet demand overtakes trans-Pacific routes

Soaring intra-Asian Internet demand is upending longstanding traffic patterns – but will likely also ensure Hong Kong remains a major hub.

Intra-Asian traffic has overtaken the trans-Pacific route to become the biggest source of connectivity, according to Telegeography research analyst Shermaine Yung.

Safe harbor: Hong Kong has long been a hub for trade and tourists alike. It's now a nexus for data traffic too.  (Source: Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash)
Safe harbor: Hong Kong has long been a hub for trade and tourists alike. It's now a nexus for data traffic too.
(Source: Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash)

Asia was the world's second-fastest growing region for international traffic in the period 2016-2020, with 40% growth. A big part of that surge has been from growing Internet use in emerging markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam.

High-speed traffic

It has been a rapid shift. Just six years ago, intra-Asia bandwidth took up less than half the region's total capacity.

Last year, it accounted for more than half, with Jakarta-Singapore becoming Asia's most heavily trafficked link, carrying more than 14 Tbit/s.

"While these trans-Pacific routes to the US are still dominant routes, the promising growth of internet demand in the region is also translating to high growth and internet bandwidth on intra-Asia routes," Yung writes in a blog post.

The sharp rise in Asia traffic is also transforming the neighboring Oceania market, which includes Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific states.

The combined Oceania and Asia data volume now accounts for over half of traffic in the region, compared to just 30% five years ago.

Keeping up appearances

Yung said the surge in intra-Asia bandwidth would help ensure that Hong Kong retained its status as a major hub.

She said the US rejection of Hong Kong-linked cables in the past two years "may be a game-changer" for the city as a future trans-Pacific landing point. "But that's not to be confused with Hong Kong's long-standing and firm status as a hub within Asia."

The trans-Pacific market is a small part of Hong Kong's subsea bandwidth, with just one major cable, Asia-America Gateway, connecting directly to North America.

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With more than 30 Tbit/s of international bandwidth traffic connected last year, Hong Kong is Asia's second-biggest hub behind Singapore.

It would take a lot more than "a few new trans-Pacific submarine cable landings" for other countries to emerge as regional hubs, Yung said.

"Other factors such as government regulations, market openness, costs, and geopolitical relationships also play a huge part in determining the extent to which international operators can enter the country."

She notes that the Philippines and Indonesia are burdened with tight regulations and relatively high costs, while Taiwan is ruled out because of its uncertain relationship with China.

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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