Cables hanging from telephone poles in Bangladesh

Managing and Growing the Internet for One Quarter of the World’s Population

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Senior Communication and Technology Advisor, Internet Society
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May 9, 2023

With nearly a quarter of the world’s population living in South Asia, the challenges of developing a resilient Internet are numerous even when discounting political tensions, economic crises, and natural disasters that currently and historically destabilize the region.

This week, network operators from across the region have converged in Dhaka, Bangladesh for the 39th South Asian Network Operators Group (SANOG) Forum to discuss the latest best practices and operational issues and technologies that they are implementing to maintain and grow their networks.

In light of this, and the impending release of the Internet Society Global Internet Resilience Index (IRI), here’s a short analysis of the health and resilience of the Internet in the region to provide some insight into the technical and market challenges the South Asian Internet community is currently facing.

South Asia’s Internet Resilience Greater than Americas

To start, Asia’s overall Internet resilience is a respectable 50% (Figure 1) — respectable given that more than half of the world’s population lives in the region.

Six donut charts showing the average resilience index for Europe (62%), Asia (50%), Americas (45%), Oceania (42%), Africa (39%), World (33%)
Figure 1 — Overall Internet resilience for the world. Source: Internet Society Pulse. The geographic boundaries and country names shown do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Internet Society concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city, or area of its authorities. We use ISO 3166 country codes and names. Regions and Sub-Regions are taken from the UN standard regions data.

If we zoom in, we can see that there’s little variance between the sub-regions (Figure 2) with South-Eastern Asia leading the way with 53% and Central Asia still a respectable 44% (greater than Oceania and Africa and just shy of the Americas).

Five donut charts showing the average Internet resilience for South-Eastern Asia (53%), Western Asia (52%), Eastern Asia (51%), Southern Asia (46%), Central Asia (44%)
Figure 2 — Overall Internet resilience for Asia.

Zooming in again, eight of the nine countries in Southern Asia have respectable index scores (Figure 3), with Bhutan leading the way with 56%, equal 14th in the whole of Asia.

Donut charts showing the average resilience scores fro Bhutan (56%), Maldives (54%), Sri Lanka (51%), Nepal (49%0, India (45%), Bangladesh (45%), Iran (42%), Pakistan (41%), Afghanistan (33%)
Figure 3 — Overall Internet resilience for South Asia.

On the other end of the spectrum is Afghanistan at 33%, understandably given the recent political upheaval that the country has faced. It bears mentioning its overall Internet penetration (Figure 4) is far below its neighbors too. And in many respects, the scores for the top two ranked countries, Bhutan and the Maldives, need to take into consideration the population size and Internet penetration of these countries compared to their far larger neighbors as well.

Bar chart showing the Internet penetration of South Asian counrtries
Figure 4 — Internet Penetration for South Asia countries. Source: Internet World Stats

How do you Measure a Country’s Resilience?

You’ll note in the first three figures the different colored donut charts under each Index score. The colors relate to four components (pillars) that contribute to the overall resiliency and smooth operation of the Internet: Infrastructure, Performance, Security, and Market Readiness.

If we plot these pillars against one another (Figure 5) we can start to see where countries are excelling in their Internet resilience and where they are left wanting.

Bar chart showing giving a visual representation of how each South Asian country compares based on the four resilience pillars.
Figure 5 — Breakdown of the Internet resilience for each country in South Asia based on the four pillars which contribute to the smooth operation of the Internet: Infrastructure, Performance, Security, and Market Readiness.

For some countries, there is quite a bit of disparity between these four pillars. For example, Bhutan’s Security score ranks a long way ahead of the next best in the region (Sri Lanka, 66%).

If we zoom further into the data points that contribute to Bhutan’s exceptional security score (Figure 6), we can see that this higher-than-average score is due to several factors, including its:

  • Near 100% of pages load using HTTPS (Secure web traffic)
  • ccTLD having deployed DNSSEC (DNSSEC adoption) and the overall high percentage of users validating DNSSEC
  • Near 100% MANRS score
  • High level of DDoS protection toward other countries
  • 100% protection against spam infection (as listed in the composite blocking list).
Screenshot of the security resilience for Bhutan, showing overall score and scores for enabling technologies (75%), Domain name system security (89%), Routing hygiene (98%) and Security threat (62%)
Figure 6 — Breakdown of the Security score for Bhutan. The Security measurement takes into account the ability of a country’s network to resist intentional or unintentional disruptions through the adoption of security technologies and best practices.

While there is room for improvement concerning its IPv6 adoption and Global cybersecurity scores it’s worth noting that:

  • Global cybersecurity data is based on the ITU’s most recent Global Cybersecurity Index score, which was from 2020, so this is to be expected to be greater once the next (5th) edition is released.
  • It’s made some great strides in IPv6 deployment in the last year (Figure 7).
Time series graph showing the growth of IPv6 use in Bhutan (currently 23%).
Figure 7 — Use of IPv6 for Bhutan. Source: APNIC Labs. Note collates IPv6 data from APNIC Labs as well as Akamai, Facebook, and Google for its score.

Bangladesh has the Lowest Market Readiness 

To finish, let’s focus on SANOG’s host country, Bangladesh. Its overall resilience (45%) is the same as its neighbor India and is slightly lower than the average (46%) for the region. 

If we isolate the four pillars for Bangladesh, we can see that three of the four are fairly similar with market readiness being the largest outlier (Figure 8).

Donut chart showing which of the four pillars contributes most to Bangladesh's overall resilience score: Infrastructure = 25.7%, Performance = 25.1%, Security = 33.0%, Market readiness = 16.2%
Figure 8 — Breakdown of Internet Resilience Index Score for Bangladesh.

Again, if we zoom into this pillar to understand the data points that make up the Market readiness score (Figure 9), we can see that four of the six indicators score between 2 to 12% with Internet affordability (average affordability of fixed and mobile broadband) and E-Government Development Index contributing the majority to the overall score.

Screenshot of Bangladesh's market readiness resilience, showing overall score (29%) market structure (36%) and Traffic localization (21%)
Figure 9 — Breakdown of Market readiness score for Bangladesh. The Market readiness measurement considers the market’s ability to self-regulate and provide affordable prices to end-users by maintaining a diverse and competitive market.

In terms of Upstream provider diversity, if we look at IIJ’s Internet Health Report (from which this score is derived) (Figure 10), we can see that the country is highly reliant on Hurricane Electric (AS6939) for international connectivity —nearly two out of every three packets leaving the country transits via AS6939.

List of the top 10 networks ranked by population coverage for Bangladesh. Hurrican Electric AS coverage = 68.7%.
Figure 10 — List of the top 10 networks ranked by population coverage for Bangladesh. Source: Internet Health Report.

This means if Hurricane Electric were to ever go offline this would disrupt nearly two-thirds of the Internet in Bangladesh, a scenario that recently played out in Italy.

To be fair, market readiness is something that all countries in South Asia and other regions of the world are struggling with. Importantly, low-cost Internet access is not the driving factor — in many cases it is often influenced by a combination of policies to encourage greater competition, and deploying and supporting networks to connect to Internet Exchange Points which reduce transit costs and lower latency by keeping traffic local.

Learn more about the Internet Society’s 50/50 Vision to keep at least half of all Internet traffic in emerging economies local by 2025

The Internet Society Internet Resilience Index (IRI) aims to offer these insights and more to help network operators and decision-makers to identify weaknesses in their Internet resilience and make data-driven decisions to address these.

Follow the Pulse Blog and subscribe to the Pulse monthly newsletter for the launch of the Internet Resilience Index in July.

Photo by NYU Stern BHR on Flickr