Prospects for the Development of the Internet in Russia

Alexandre Kouznetsov
Commercial Consultant to the Institute of High-Capacity Computer Systems
Russian Academy of Sciences
1, rue Soubeyran, 1203 Geneva, Switzerland
Tel/Fax: (4122)344-6079

Dmitri Bourtsev


This paper considers factors favoring the development of the Internet in Russia and the obstacles and problems to this development. It contains data on PCs, computer and telecommunications technology, local area networks and existing channels for Internet connection in Russia. It discusses a conception for a Russian national network for science and higher school and construction of its principal element, the Russian Backbone Network. It describes the parameters and equipment of the Southern Moscow Backbone, completed in 1995, as an example of a part of the future Russian Backbone Network. It also justifies the need for mobilization of both state and enterprise-sector financial resources for construction of the national telecommunications infrastructure necessary for massive Internet connection of both commercial and noncommercial users in Russia.

1. Preconditions of and obstacles to the development of the Internet in Russia

There are several factors that favor rapid development of the Internet in Russia. Among them are the following:

However, there are still serious obstacles preventing Russia from massive development of LANs and from connecting to the Internet, including the following:

2. Current state of the art of information networks in Russia

A total of 900,000 personal computers are reported to have been sold in Russia in 1994. About 60 percent of them were bought by Russian federal authorities. There was considerable improvement in the technical quality of those PCs (they were mostly on the basis of 386, 486 and Pentium processors). There was also growth in the number of portable PCs sold.

However, Russia's requirements, according to both Russian and American experts, are estimated to be at a level of about 30 million PCs, which shows that the Russian market is still very modest and has great potential for further growth. There is also great Russian demand for information network and communications equipment. The government has a big role to play in creating conducive conditions for the further growth in sales of PCs and other telecommunications equipment and in fostering the development. The government needs to pursue a special promotion trade policy in the telecommunications sector. In spite of all these deficiencies, Russia already possesses high potential for development of a national information network of networks, regional and local, and their connection to Internet.

It is estimated at present that there are about 800 LANs in Russia, more than 90 percent of which are in research and educational institutions; the remaining LANs are in state or public organizations. They are mostly concentrated in the big cities, including Moscow and the Moscow region (more than 250), Saint Petersburg (more than 50), Novosibirsk (about 40), Perm (about 30), Yekaterinburg (about 20), and Irkutsk (about 20). The use of those LANs and the connections through them to the Internet is almost completely noncommercial. It is believed that in the near future, there will be rapid growth in the number of such noncommercial organizations having LANs--up to about 1,500.

There are still very few enterprises in the private sector that have their own LAN or that are commercially connected to LANs and the Internet. The Russian press reports that Demos, one of the first Internet service providers in Russia, registered in 1989, has connected 3,500 collective clients, including the administration of the president of Russia, Russian Central Bank, Moscow Mayor's Office, and the press agency ITAR/TASS. It created the well-known network Relcom, working in TCP/IP and having 104 basic ports of access in Russia. Another smaller network using TCP/IP is Glasnet.

According to nonofficial data that have been reported in the Russian media and information from the experts of Demos, there are still only 133,000 e-mail users in Russia. This shows that there is great potential in Russia for further growth in the number of e-mail and Internet users.

However, many Russian networks work in the standard X.25 of ISO/OSI (Rospak: 114 basic ports of access; Rosnet: 34 basic ports of access; Rosprint). The difficulties of their use for connection to Internet are in an insufficient number of information gateways/locks between protocols X.25 and TCP/IP of the Internet.

The Russian academic networks (Radio-Moscow State University, RSSI, FREEnet/UNICOR, Sovam Teleport, RUNnet, United Institute of Nuclear Research-UINR, etc.) are noncommercial and have limited distribution and a limited number of clients, mostly those in research and educational institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences. However, the following academic networks as well as Relcom have possibilities of connecting to the Internet through ISDN:

Serious financial support for the development of noncommercial academic local Internet centers at 27 major Russian universities outside Moscow and Saint-Petersburg was provided by the International Fund of George Soros. Further development of internal digital telecommunications infrastructure of high rate and of LANs in Russia and of new high-capacity fiber optic telecable connections to the Internet are certainly necessary prerequisites to ensure massive connections of commercial clients in Russia to LANs and the Internet.

However, the limited financial state resources and support from noncommercial Russian and foreign organizations are not sufficient for construction of a modern expensive telecommunications infrastructure in the most vast country of the world. The possible solution in this regard may be found in a simultaneous parallel involvement in fthe financing of the building of the national telecommunications infrastructure by the private enterprise sector and perhaps by the public through their direct payments for commercial connection to the Internet. As a matter of fact, their massive and active connection to the Internet could be promoted right now in many parts of the country by public and private service provider firms through existing lines controlled by state and noncommercial organizations that in spite of all their deficiencies, represent, particularly in big cities, a solid basis for initial commercial development of LAN and Internet connections. Only accumulation of financial resources both of the state and private sectors and of individuals could provide the required level of investment for basic infrastructure development. It is still not clear if the state in Russia will be ready to accept broad participation of private enterprises in a sensitive information sector. Is the state ready to share with commercial service providers the responsibilities and to some extent the control over Internet development in the country?

3. Conception for a Russian national network for science and higher school

In the meantime there is a discussion in Russian academic circles on the setting up of a national network for science and higher school.

The objectives of this National Network (NN) should be the following:

Although the authors of the conception want NN to be noncommercial, they recognize that to build NN only with financing from budgetary and charity sources is impossible. They therefore support the idea of cooperation with other networks, including commercial ones, but urge keeping the initiative in NN development in order to satisfy primarily the needs for exchange of information of research and educational organizations and to ensure first of all a development of key important elements of telecommunications infrastructure like ISDN, principal ports of access, etc.

They suggest the following principles for the establishment of NN:

The realization of the NN conception has to solve the following tasks:

So, the future NN project would have two principal parts:

  1. Creation of an interregional multiprotocol backbone network as ISDN, with multiple standard regional ports of access for regional networks and LANs.
  2. Development of regional information infrastructures by connection of LANs and final clients to regional academic and commercial networks. Regional networks would be direct-service providers for local research and educational organizations.

4. Russian Backbone Network

To improve the quality of information services to its clients, NN should also use ISDN for connection of some LANs to RBnet or, for special cases, should place these LANs directly at the ports of access.

RBnet should include the ports of access of the big cities of Russia with well-known scientific and educational potential that already have numerous developed LANs. These cities include Saint Petersburg (North-West region), Moscow (Central region), Yekaterinburg (Ural region), Novosibirsk (Siberian region), and Khabarovsk (Far East region). The best place for the original ports of access is in the international and intercity telephone stations, where commutation units of a number of LANs may be arranged in the near future. Such an approach will help to connect regional LANs and to use effectively Rostelecom infrastructure for connection of final users in a more reliable way. Further on, new ports of access in the big cities will be built with direct connection to these original ports of access.

The ISDN of not less than 2 Mbps should be used for interconnection of the ports of access so that the existence of several interregional virtual channels needed for stable connection of LANs users to the Internet may be ensured. Also only leasing and reserving dubbing lines for each port of access may guarantee stability of the system and its connection to international networks. It is also desirable that basic land telecommunications lines have dubbing parallel satellite channels including those belonging to some LANs.

So, the RBnet as a basis for NN should meet the following technical requirements:

Today these requirements may already be met for the part of backbone network going from Saint Petersburg to Moscow and for connection to the Internet. But soon Rostelecom will be able to provide high-quality land lines for NN from Saint Petersburg to Khabarovsk. There will also be channels of fiber optic cables and satellite lines controlled by other organizations and service providers that could be leased especially for NN.

The system of administration for NN should apparently be mixed. The regional networks would have independent administrators who, however, should coordinate their actions within the framework of a Special Working Group established by joint decision for that aim (as with the Internet). The administration of RBnet should be centralized to ensure standard technical policy and monitoring for the whole backbone network, common management of network resources, technical services to the elements of the backbone network, collection of statistical data, tariffication, etc.

One important financial issue of the project is a need to keep the same high standards of commutation equipment used for connection of LANs in all regional ports of access of NN and to ensure its centralized purchases in accordance with the technical recommendation of the best experts.

5. Southern Moscow Backbone

As we have already mentioned, some parts of the future RBnet have already been constructed. It relates, for example, to the Southern Moscow Backbone (SMB). The initial stage of SMB was completed in the first half of 1995.

The objective of SMB is to interconnect LANs of a number of leading Moscow research and educational organizations and to build a basic infrastructure for access to the Internet. The SMB project was financed by the International George Soros Fund, an American charity organization that supports fundamental scientific research on the territory of the former USSR.

Advanced FDDI technology with a rate of telecommunication up to 100 Mbps and high reliability was taken as a standard for transmitting data. SMB has connected LANs of the following organizations: Moscow State University and RAS's Headquarters, Institute of Organic Chemistry, Physical Institute, Mathematical Institute, Institute of Theoretical Physics, Central Economico-Mathematical Research Institute, ISF and Space Research Institute. The total length of SMB has reached 29 km. The project did not include the financing of connection of LANs to SMB, but each organization with a port of access has been supplied with a router, CISCO-516CS, which has one Ethernet port and 16 communication ports with a rate of around 115 kbps and a working station SUN SPARC Station 1 in order to run equipment and statistical data at each access port.

The principal port of access of FDDI-ring of SMB has a special equipment unit for connection to Ethernet and other external (including international) networks. This unit includes Power Source Smart-UPS AP1250RI, SNMP-adapter, bridge CISCO Catalist Workgroup Switch 10Base-T and Singe-mode FDDI A/B Port Card for WS-C1100 and WS-C1200.

CISCO Catalist Workgroup Switch has one FDDI port and eight switched TP Ethernet ports. One of the TP Ethernet ports is connected to router CISCO-4000 installed in the same unit and, so, CISCO plays a role of one of the front-end for the SMB router-service provider of this principal port.

The clients of the SMB are using for their international connections two satellite channels of 256 kbps of SRI of RAS - NSI USA (NASA Space Internet) connection and of 516 kbps of MSU - DFN-DESU, Hamburg connection. However, these satellite lines are serving now as a provisional solution of reliable connection to the Internet. Only land digital fiber optic cable connection with no time delay at the rate of at least 2 Mbps may be considered as satisfactory for such a connection in view of a big number of both foreign and Russian users and the high intensity of their work with the most resource-consuming Internet systems (WWW, hypertext, Gopher, Unix, etc.). The number of connections to SMB has already grown extensively from the very first weeks of its work.

SMB is considered a noncommercial network open for connection to all Russian scientific, educational, cultural, medical and other organizations under Authorised User Policy. CISCO Catalist ensures direct connections to its Ethernet ports of new users through their front-end routers (as a minimum router CISCO-2514 with two Ethernet ports and two other high-rate ports). However, new users should choose one of the initial SMB users as its service provider.

SMB connections to other regional networks in the country will be practically arranged through satellite lines, at least initially. This stresses once again a need for cable connection to the Internet to avoid double time delay, which is not acceptable for interactive work such as multimedia, video conferences and others.

Further development of SMB envisages its connections to other parts of the future RBnet and to internal commercial networks such as Relcom, IASnet and Sprint and progressive replacement of satellite connections for land fiber optic cable lines.


The intensive development of Internet connections in Russia depends on many political, economic and social factors, which are all subjects of further implementation of the reform in the Russian society and economy and of conversion of Russia into a modern, open, democratic state that will play an active role in the world market in all economic sectors, including sensitive information and the telecommunications sector.

It is also clear that only further development of economic reform in Russia will permit state, local, private and international financial resources to be mobilized so that the required amount of investments needed for development of Internet telecommunications infrastructure in such a big region as Russian will be available. Only commercial use of the Internet by the enterprise sector in parallel with noncommercial provision of its services (which are mostly developing in Russia at the present time) may guarantee real connection of broad Russian society to the global information network and provision of its services to every interested Russian organization and private person. However, the commercial distribution of Internet services in Russia will require special development of a national database of common and business uses (e.g., flights, train guides, time-tables and availability of tickets, weather information, all kinds of reference directories for the whole country, special business, financial, banking, stock and commodities exchange information).