The capacity business is a key driver within the Middle East and African countries, affecting telcos and other business players while the increasing penetration of 5G, fiber services, adoption of cloud-based services, and other emerging technologies occur. This extensively brings the need for better bandwidth that can carry data traffic seamlessly and securely across borders.
In developed regions such as the GCC, improvements in capacity can lead to low-latency and high-quality connectivity which improves network resilience and customer experience as well as attract wider foreign direct investment that benefits local wholesalers and telecom service providers, among other players.
At present, there’s a need for agility to benefit from multiple digital services which can be achieved through new partnerships and business models. To enable the kind of connectivity that can offer an important advantage in implementing any combination of capacity strategies, three important aspects have been constantly upgraded — data centers, subsea cables, and internet exchange points (IXPs).
Despite the pandemic, the Middle East data center market has remained buoyant during 2020 and is predicted to grow at a CAGR of around seven percent up until 2024. In line with this, the Middle East and Africa data center market witnessed investments of $6.6 billion in 2021 and is expected to witness roughly double the investments reaching around $12.2 billion by 2027.
Countries like Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and Nigeria have shown numerous initiatives that drive the uptick in data center demand by encouraging digital innovations. In 2021, the UAE was the major contributor in terms of data center investments, earning its spot as one of the best places to build data centers.
On the other hand, telecom service providers and vendors such as stc, Nokia, e&, du, Ooredoo, and Huawei are among the major investors in the region’s data center industry with major cloud service providers and global colocation operators like Amazon Web Services and PCCW Global expanding their presence as well for better connectivity.
Increasing operational business requirements are prompting enterprises to migrate from on-premises, server room operations to data center services including managed, colocation, and hybrid facilities. In parallel with this, an increase in data volume and network bandwidth requirements must be facilitated in a sustainable and efficient manner.
Huawei, as an example, has made innovations in Ethernet technology by defining a simplified, low-latency data center network technology stack. A UB-over-Ethernet (UBoE) solution is possible to create large-scale computing networks, each having more than 300,000 nodes, a switching element capacity of over 100 Tbit/s, and a static latency of less than 130 nanoseconds.
A new generation of capacity, reliability and performance in subsea cables such as Africa-1, 2Africa, PEACE cable, Equiano, Southeast Asia – Middle East – Western Europe 6 (SEA-ME-WE 6), and Medusa can deliver improved capabilities across many industry verticals in the Middle East region.
There are over 1.3 million km of submarine cables that would wrap around Earth more than 30 times end-to-end, and this can create new opportunities for operators, OTT providers and enterprise service providers to upsell premium connectivity. With optical fiber being used in constructing the subsea cables of today and beyond, the number of landing points in the GCC is expected to increase in the next five years.
Coverage and capacity expansion enabled by subsea cables are also essential, especially with the rise of cloud computing and mobile broadband, empowering a fully connected digital society. Submarine cables play an integral role in the modern world’s digitalization that could be worth $100 trillion worldwide in 2025, with the majority of this value benefiting societies and individuals.
To illustrate, the SEA-ME-WE 6 submarine cable will land at Mobily’s new international cable landing station in the city of Yanbu. With its strategic red sea location, nearby data centers, and the Saudi Vision 2030 ambition, it is one of the key cable landing sites for Saudi Arabia and the region. In the same context, cable systems will continue to be built to cover key geographical routes and expand capacity as internet usage continues to grow. This is the booming scenario in Africa where there are already cable systems deployed from the west and east coasts, with more to come, such as the new Africa-1 cable system. MTN GlobalConnect is consolidating to provide Africa with the reach it deserves, by operating in 17 countries in the continent and managing 85,000 kilometers of terrestrial fiber coverage, besides being a partner in the 2Africa consortium for the benefit of a modern connected life and actively investing in Africa’s digital growth.
Internet exchange points
IXPs are physical infrastructure (layer 2 switching) that facilitates network interconnection, aiming to lower costs, boost performance, increase autonomy as a region, and maintain privacy and cybersecurity. These are considered to be an integral part of the internet infrastructure worldwide.
With well-implemented IXPs, local internet traffic stays local such as online banking financial transactions, availability of e-government services, and locally-hosted content consumption. Through IXP facilities, reduced latency is also achieved.
One solution becoming increasingly popular with enterprises is peering, the free exchange of data between networks at IXPs. IXPs are thriving ecosystems of carrier networks, content delivery networks (CDNs), internet service providers (ISPs), as well as public cloud and IT service providers. For instance, multiple virtual connections can be provisioned via a single Console Connect Access Port and are delivered across PCCW Global’s leading global network. This provides users with real-time connectivity among IX peering partners from 450 plus Console Connect-enabled data centers across over 50 countries.
As operators share the common interests of delivering quality services at controllable prices, they choose to interconnect with each other at IXPs. This is an ideal business solution for enterprises to augment their digital transformation strategies.
As with several other regions in the world, the Middle East is becoming one of the world’s brightest connectivity hubs including peering growth and interconnectivity as key factors in supporting digital milestones. After a slow start with UAE-IX in 2012, the Middle East’s neutral peering ecosystem has seen strategic developments such as Aqaba Digital Hub’s Aqaba IX, LINX strategic partnership with stc.
Along with peering arrangements between carriers, IXPs help provide the shortest possible route for the flow of information between sender and receiver. Thus, through collaboration and new partnerships, the Middle East could become the global digital powerhouse it aspires to be, with ISPs operating in the region coming together to help build the connectivity required to support this objective.