On April 14, the switch was thrown on Brunei Darussalam's new global link, the Asia-American Gateway (AAG), a high-bandwidth, optical-fibre submarine cable system connecting Brunei Darussalam and six other South-east Asian countries with the US.
The Sultanate has invested $40m in the project, 75% of which came from the state and the remaining $10m equally paid in by communications firms Telekom Brunei Berhad (TelBru) and the DST Group. The same day as the cable came on-line, the government formally transferred its holding in the AAG to Brunei International Gateway (BIG), the company established in late 2009 to work jointly with the two private partners to operate the cable and promote various spin-off projects.
The AAG brings with it a massive upgrade in internet capacity, one that will allow both the business community and citizens to make full use of advanced technology. Brunei Darussalam's first undersea communications link, the South-east Asia-Middle East-Western Europe (SEA-ME-WE 3) cable system only provided connectivity speed of 655 MB per second, while the AAG is a 1.92-TB-per-second fibre-optic cable, giving Brunei Darussalam access to some of the fastest internet services in the world.
Not only will the AAG provide fast internet access, it will provide a lot of it, so much so in fact that up to half of the cable's capacity is surplus to the country's immediate requirements. This high level of redundancy in the system will allow BIG to sell surplus bandwidth to international telecoms operators.
The plan to sell off the surplus capacity is part of an even more ambitious project, with the income generated to be channelled into investing in a third underwater cable, one that will give Brunei Darussalam the infrastructure needed to develop itself as a top-flight data centre.
According to Pehin Dato Hj Abu Bakar, Brunei Darussalam's communications minister, now that the Sultanate has spare capacity with the opening of the AAG, it can advance its ICT plans to the next level.
"We don't want the surplus to be redundant and there are a few potential international telcos interested in purchasing it," he said on April 14. "With that we can use that money for another investment. Currently, we are looking into the potential of investing in another submarine cable because the focus is to have a data centre. For a data centre to be operational, it needs a minimum of three submarine cables."
The Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), the agency tasked with carrying through the government's programme of diversifying the economy away from hydrocarbons, has long been nurturing plans to establish a data centre, proposing to invest up to $100m in the project via partnerships between the state and private enterprises.
Once up and running, the centre would be able to sell data storage space and other services to clients in need of high-end IT facilities.
TelBru, through its subsidiary SiPADU Systems, is already moving down this path, working with international partners to bundle, package and offer value-added managed data centre and disaster-recovery services for the company's local clients as well as targeting regional multinational companies in the near future.
According to Lim Hong Beng, the general manager of TelBru's strategic investment unit, the proposed data centre could be operational in 12 months, at first targeting the domestic market for the provision of data storage, protection and back-up services.
"It is our goal to drive and provide managed data centre and disaster-recovery centre services to businesses in Brunei Darussalam in the near future, and to support business operations of small and medium-sized enterprises, government ministries and departments," he said.
Late last year, the BEDB said it could take between three and five years to get its data centre up and running. Now, with the AAG link in place and plans being developed to generate new revenue streams to fund the third cable, along with TelBru's own plans, the countdown to Brunei Darussalam becoming an IT centre has well and truly begun.