Fiber Fix Brings Burma’s Internet Back Up to Speed

By Naomi Gingold 30 July 2013

A problem with the on-land fiber optic cable near the Irrawaddy delta city of Pyapon was to blame for recent severely slowed Internet connections that left Burmese netizens gasping for bits of digital air for more than a week.

According to Myo Swe, chief engineer of the Information and Technology Department at Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), repairs were completed early Tuesday evening. Over the next two days, MPT will carry out additional tests to ensure that the Internet is back up to its regular speed.

MPT is currently the sole provider of telecommunications services in Burma.

Previous announcements from MPT had stated that the undersea fiber optic cable known as SEA-ME-WE-3, Burma’s only undersea Internet link, was damaged off the coast of Irrawaddy Division on July 21. But international Internet engineers contacted by The Irrawaddy over the last couple of days said no outages were seen on the international cable, and on Tuesday MPT confirmed that the problem was located in the ground fiber cable 2.5 miles from Pyapon.

The MPT official said the state-owned company did not know how the cable was damaged, but once damaged it was only able to transmit 40 percent of its usual capacity.   Technicians and engineers from MPT carried out all of the repair work.

China Unicom and MPT recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to bring one more subsea Internet connection into Burma. Together they plan to build a link from the undersea fiber optic cable known as SEA-ME-WE-5 to Mandalay and up into China.

On the whole, Internet speeds in Burma remain relatively slow compared with connection rates worldwide. The Internet penetration rate for Burma in 2011 stood at less than 1 percent of the population, according to the OpenNet Initiative, although these rates perhaps do not fully account for all usage at local Internet cafes.