In an exclusive interview, Amr Eid, Chief Executive Officer of Gulf Bridge International, explains the value-centric strategy, ‘smarter’ business model and agility behind the evolution of GBI - the Middle East region’s leading connectivity, content and cloud enabler that has recently concluded its transformation into a global shared and managed services provider. In the Networked World with 50 billion devices predicted to be connected globally by 2020, GBI provides the vital infrastructure that empowers businesses, communities, countries and economies, and contributes to the shift towards smart economies in the Middle East.
What part of GBI’s DNA has changed after the transformation from a cable system into a global service provider and how do you, as a chief executive officer, view the way forward?
Today, GBI owns and operates a multilayer network that bridges the East to the West through the Middle East. Our recent network transformation has turned GBI from a subsea cable system into a full-fledged global service provider. We extended our reach, grew organically and diversified our portfolio by partnering with global cloud and service providers, by joining internet exchanges and datacenters, and by bringing content hubs closer to the Middle East. As a contributor to the new era of ICT growth in the region, we view the establishment of more collaborative infrastructure that involves public-private initiatives, and cross-border and cross-sector innovations to be on the cusp of the future connectivity revolution. Our DNA has evolved; however, our mission to connect the world and to serve as a catalyst to growth will not change in the future.
Is GBI going to maintain its role to be a ‘carriers’ carrier’ for telecom operators, ISPs and governments?
Being a global service provider that supports ethernet, MPLS and IP networks and as an operator-agnostic partner of choice for governments, ISPs and telecom companies, GBI remains focused on its model to sell through partners in the region and for being the region’s neutral carriers’ carrier that delivers on the needs of its customers and allies. More importantly, our major standout feature is our neutrality since our infrastructure gives equal rights to all operators in the region and lands equally with every operator across the region.
Can you share some insights into the journey of “transforming a submarine network into a full-fledged managed services business”?
The new connectivity landscape has required a large-scale telecom turf transformation that involves the whole ecosystem. Agility is crucial within this new telecom marketplace where a connectivity provider enables better economies of scale, by offering ‘smarter’ business approaches and sustainable business models for return on investments, and by delivering value to customers and partners.
The mix of submarine, terrestrial and transit routes have created multilayer autoswitched multipass networks, creating multiple self-healing layers suitable for cloud services, mission-critical services and consumer internet.
It is also important to emphasize that our holistic and forward-thinking approach, as well as the support from our leadership and shareholders made us overcome all the challenges we faced along the transformational journey.
Today, how is GBI contributing to the Smart Future initiatives being adopted by various countries in the Middle East region?
Our evolution has established us as the Middle East’s first private and fastest growing IP network. More importantly, today, GBI’s agile IP offerings are serving over 100 million people across the Arabian Gulf, enabling regional service providers to connect to the content providers with greater efficiency, flexibility and scalability. By making global cloud providers and internet exchanges easily available to enterprise customers in the region, and by spanning mission-critical services, GBI delivers vital propositions to the whole ecosystem and contributes to the shift towards smart economies.
We have created GBI@Inspire Internship program targeting the youth in the universities and capturing the ideas of our younger generation; we are being inspired by their wealth of ideas and needs.
We embrace the digital transformation, virtualization and the shift they accelerate towards the connected societies. Connectivity is the soul of the internet and the heart of the technological evolution stemming from digitization, internet of everything, big data, machine-to-machine (M2M), artificial intelligence and connected censors. Every time someone opens a Google map to search for a location or turns to Wikipedia for answers, they reach out to us and our services. This is just a small part of our contribution.
In the past decade the Middle East was the fastest growing region globally in terms of demand for bandwidth and capacity usage. How has GBI capitalized on this growth?
Frost and Sullivan forecast the Gulf’s cloud market to expand seven-fold and to reach $668.5 million by 2020. Also, according to GSMA, in the internet of everything era, globally machine-to-machine connections are expected to grow to nearly one billion by 2020 and within the same period, Cisco predicts hyperscale datacenters to become as many as 485 across the globe.
For GBI, these projections offer many opportunities. A year since the launch of our IP network, we have enabled our customers to further enhance their end user experience and to provide better connectivity for all. Our next generation infrastructure and enriched enterprise capabilities and services have allowed us to capitalize on the exponential demand for bandwidth and the needs of the digitalized marketplace that is prompted by the hype cycle of the cloud and OTT revolution, and the smart future. The global shift towards cloud architecture has prompted a rethink of the conventional industry models for both small and medium-sized enterprises and large entities. By and large, personalized services and flexibility will pave the way to the new era for growth.
As a leader in the submarine cable industry, what advantages and disadvantages can you share about international submarine cables, particularly for the Middle East region, and how does the regulatory framework add to this vital infrastructure?
The real question the industry needs to address collectively is: should we continue with the growth of capacity or should we enable bridging the content hubs and how? In response, we need to jointly address the existing realities of over-regulation and lack of commitment from all stakeholders to position the Middle East as a transit hub for connectivity.
Undisputedly, revenues of service providers come from enterprise and cloud-based services – a new scenario that requires a neutral connectivity approach since only neutral access can provide the bridge between all the content hubs in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Content players and aggregators are increasingly pairing up with service providers to establish partnerships and revenue-share models that will deliver the needed services and regulatory framework that is to facilitate the new reality. The combination of transparency, collaboration and forward vision will stimulate and sustain the industry growth.
What are some of the challenges that the submarine cable industry faces today? And how is the changing ecosystem changing the nature of your strategy and partnerships?
The growth of regional connectivity between the content hubs in the region rests with fusing the infrastructure between terrestrial and submarine cables, domestic assets and international assets to deliver one service. We advocate a shift towards “smarter connectivity”. In this context, the leading approach to help save investments in our industry will be the fusing of networks, introducing more intelligence into the international highways of traffic and viewing the region as a combined group of countries that jointly support an IP Transit marketplace.
In this regard, I will reiterate our core message: the industry can achieve sustainable growth only through openness, cooperation, co-competitiveness and complementation of all stakeholders.
What company products and solutions are tailored to contribute to the economic growth in the region and to the smart living concept embraced by the governments in the Middle East region?
Nowadays, it is all about content, content-driven products, enterprise solutions, datacenters and the cloud service commerce. Having recognized the new status quo, we extended our strategic partnerships and footprint by partnering with big ecosystem players and other industry allies and by adding greater network capabilities, as well as by strengthening our service-centric models tailored to suit the individual partner and respectively their customers. As an ICT enabler, we recognize that the end user has changed the rules of the game for the whole value chain and only adaptable organizations that are able to accelerate innovation will be equipped and ready to move forward.
Congratulations on winning the award for Best Submarine Cable Operator at the Telecom Review Summit Awards this year. What does this award mean to you and why do you think GBI stood out to receive this recognition?
We are proud that our vision to do things in an innovative and smarter way has been recognized by a leading industry body. This award demonstrates that we are on the right track as a contributor to the industry’s growth by unlocking opportunities and developing a game-changing approach to the ICT field – also seen as the fuel for economic growth.
What are the main pillars of GBI’s strategy for growth going forward into 2017?
Our evolutionary path will continue to go upward. We will remain agile, forward-looking and innovative in everything we do – starting from the new customized, diversified portfolio of wholesale and enterprise services we have launched, to the neutrality and equal right for access we provide to all partners thus empowering their businesses and the knowledge-based and shared-economies in the Middle East region and beyond.
Most importantly, our people have always been our greatest asset and we will continue to grow as a team in the future.
As a CEO, what is your vision for GBI in two years’ time?
We will always be a partner-centric organization that delivers value to all stakeholders, establishes industry-wide synergies and platforms for industry collaboration, inspires and drives changes to conventional business models, and contributes to the transformation of the Middle East region into an international transit hub for connectivity. When it comes to the future, for us the sky is no longer the limit, but the norm.