Broadband use in Brunei has increased 50% in the past 12 months and threefold in the past three years, according to the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry of Brunei Darussalam (AITI) and the Unified National Networks (UNN).
As Brunei battles a growing second wave of COVID-19 cases, the government has imposed its strictest measures yet: ordering all non-essential staff to work from home and permitting only two residents to leave their homes at a time.
Schools have also been ordered to move online, cumulatively creating a surge in home broadband use – which combined with ongoing upgrades and other existing issues – has seen users experiencing a slowdown.
In a joint statement on August 16, AITI and UNN said a series of upgrades were made to the national networks in the early morning of August 13 and 14 to address increased usage.
In particular, the statement said broadband usage has increased a further 20% from 8pm to midnight.
During the scheduled upgrades on August 14, UNN detected a routing issue that was affecting broadband quality. AITI said tests made the following day showed that users were getting 85% of their subscribed speed, compared to just 24% of on August 12.
In addition to taking remedial action, the statement said that UNN has and will continue to upgrade the network.
An isolated issue with a mobile network router was also noted on August 15, which prevented several media outlets from live streaming the COVID-19 press conference. The router experienced memory allocation failure which disrupted connectivity temporarily.
Notwithstanding, UNN and AITI said half of all base stations for mobile networks in the country have been upgraded, and would not be impacted by the recent issues faced by the broadband network.
Increasing cable theft jeopardizing connectivity
Increasing cable theft has also been exacerbating the network quality said Second Minister of Finance and Economy and Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah and UNN CEO Dr Steffen Oehler.
In the past three months, 45 cases of theft have been recorded, with UNN spending more than $500,000 on theft-related repairs this year, said the minister. A theft can affect up to 10% of the national network.
Thieves have been targeting copper cables underground for resale, but with the majority of the network already transitioning to fibre, the likelihood of securing copper is low.
“This is obviously unacceptable and we are working with law enforcement (to resolve the issue),” said YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin at the COVID-19 press conference on August 11. “If the public see any such activity and if they see anyone trying to sell copper please report to the police so we can work together to catch these culprits.”
UNN’s CEO said the thefts are pre-meditated operations involving multiple persons accessing the cables underground through manholes, and using trucks or other heavy duty vehicles to pull the stolen cables out.
The length of cable stolen can reach up to 350 metres, with each metre weighing ten kilogrammes. UNN has also engaged a security company to patrol the areas, but there are some 100,000 manholes which are accessible.
“In 2020, it (theft) was 10 times more than the 2019 and in 2021 for seven months is already 10 times more than in 2020,” said UNN’s CEO.
Additional submarine cables in place
UNN has also built additional capacity for its submarine cables that connect to the international network.
This will minimise potential disruption should international links be affected, as was the case in March to April last year, which coincided with the first outbreak of COVID-19.
“Since then UNN has built in excess capacity so that if there is any other or one of the cables is affected we have other cables to take over,” added the minister.