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How Data Gets to Asia

Asian Crossing (Click to enlarge)
Asian Data Routes Visualization (Click to enlarge)

Regardless of where I start, it always takes me forever to get to Asia, though given a choice, I prefer flying overland from Western Europe. Data packets seem to make the same trip pretty effortlessly, so I was curious to see what route they take.

I selected thirty Asian websites and traced the route the data took from my computer in New York to get to them using Tellurian.net’s handy traceroute script (I’m behind an NYU firewall that makes tracerouting pretty difficult). The results were pretty crappy. Half the time, the trace timed out before it even reached Asia.

Show/hide raw traceroute data

I ended up using this nifty visual traceroute tool which uses Google maps to plot an approximate route to figure out how packets got from here to there. I discovered a number of interesting things:

  • Most data heads to China from the Los Angeles area, though interestingly enough, Baidu always seems to go through Mexico. I’m guessing this has something to do with the wires it favors.
  • The latency between hops once the data reaches China jumps from between 4 and 40ms to well over 200ms (an effect of the Great Firewall, I assume).
  • Because of this, most data that is bound for Asian destinations other than China tends to avoid China, with the notable exception of SK Telecom’s website which is routed through Suide, a Chinese city I’d never heard of.
  • The majority of the data lines belong either to Verizon or to AT&T, though there are other providers, such as Cogentco also pop up occasionally.
  • Many of the Indian and Vietnamese sites I looked up are hosted in the US so they didn’t make it onto my visualization.
  • Traceroutes are not all that reliable.

Interesting stuff. I’ll do the same exercise from Shanghai the next time I’m in China just for comparison’s sake.


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