Is the Caribbean region becoming over-connected?

Although the Caribbean currently has a comprehensive network of submarine cables, new projects are emerging that still aim to increase connectivity. Is the region at risk of being over-connected?

C@ribnet logo (Source:CKLN)On February 26, the Caribbean Research and Education Network (C@ribNET) was formally launched in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. C@ribNET, which is a broadband fibre optic network constructed by regional telecoms carrier, LIME, and connects 21 Caribbean/CARICOM countries, is one of number of initiatives geared toward increasing the region’s connectivity or connectedness. As discussed in our recent post, We are more connected than we think, the Caribbean already has several submarine cable systems. Hence are C@ribNET and other similar but independent projects, such as CARCIP,just overkill?

What is C@ribNet?

According to the Caribbean Knowledge Learning Network (CKLN), which manages C@ribNET,

C@ribNET is a broadband fiber optic network, configured to connect tertiary institutions, hospitals, schools, and CARICOM and other institutions engaged in knowledge development and research, within the Caribbean, and then to connect these institutions to research and education institutions in the rest of the world. 

Access to C@ribNET will be via National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) established in each of the participating Caribbean/CARICOM countries. The NRENs will comprise academic (especially tertiary-level) and other institutions for the purposes of innovation, knowledge creation and sharing, and with the goals of reducing the digital divide and increasing social inclusion.

With funding from the European Union, C@ribNET comprises a dedicated broadband network that connects all of the participating countries, as shown in Figure 1. The main backbone connects the Dominican Republic, Florida, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, whilst the rest of the countries are connected via “Caribbean Access Nodes”. The entire network is linked internationally to the Latin American academic networks, RedCLARA, in Costa Rica, and to its European counterpart, GÉANT, in Paris.

Figure 1:  Topology of C@ibNET (Source: CKLN)
Figure 1: Topology of C@ibNET (Source: CKLN)

Although the C@ribNET infrastructure has been established, the in-country NRENs are still being developed, and application and services still being modified for use on that network. Hence it may be at least another year before any significant use of C@ribNET is evident.

What is CARCIP?

CARCIP, the Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Program, is a recently launched World Bank-supported project that is being coordinated by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) in Trinidad and Tobago. The project, which may be accessed by all CARICOM member countries, and is expected to run for more than 5 years, aims to achieve the following:

  • increase access and affordability of broadband communications networks within region and countries

  • contribute to the development of the regional IT industry

  • contribute to improved Government efficiency and transparency through the delivery of e-services, including e-government and e-society applications. (Source: WorldBank)

Through those objectives, the goal is to address infrastructural gaps that still exist at the country level, and to further strengthen the enabling environment ICT for Development (ICT4D) activities. To that end, project activities will focus on the three key areas: connectivity infrastructure; ICT-led innovation and e-transformation. Table 1 highlights some of the activities that could be undertaken in those three action areas.

Table 1: Select CARCIP-approved action areas (Source: World Bank)
Table 1: Select CARCIP-approved action areas (Source: World Bank)

CARCIP is still in its early stages, and will start with projects in Grenada, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines (Phase 1). Six Requests for Expressions of Interest were recently advertised, with deadline dates for submission from as early as next week.

Is there really too much excess connectivity or overlap?

In an earlier discussion on international connectivity in the region, we noted that there were at least 15 different submarine cables systems connecting Caribbean/CARICOM countries (see Figure 2), but well over half had no more than two cable systems or landing points.

Figure 2: Excerpt from TeleGeography’s global submarine cable map showing the Caribbean region (Source: TeleGeography)
Figure 2: Excerpt from TeleGeography’s global submarine cable map showing the Caribbean region (Source: TeleGeography)

Although Figure 2 might seem impressive, individual countries are frequently marked down in international assessments for having insufficient international connectivity, especially as it relates to redundancy. Should one of the submarine cables connecting a country develop a fault, there might be just one (or even no other) cable available to carry international traffic, which is still considered a high risk situation.

The establishment of C@ribNET might not have required the laying new cables (a truly expensive undertaking!), but rather the activating and configuring under-utilised capacity in existing cables across the region and internationally. However, having now been established, the challenge is likely to be ensuring that C@ribNET is used in the manner envisaged to achieve the goals specified.

On the other hand, CARCIP could offer countries a framework through which they can promote deployment of additional submarine cable systems, or connectivity to existing systems, especially when there might be limited redundancy. However, based on the recently published tenders, it appears that one of the initial areas of focus will be internal infrastructure, specifically, national broadband backbone networks. Deployment of these proposed networks could improve the availability of broadband infrastructure, facilitating better connectivity, which in turn can be a springboard for other initiatives.


Image credit: CKLN