Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Regional Cable Network (R.C.N.), a Reliable and Powerful New Communications Infrastructure for the Middle East

January 22, 2011

Last December, a few days before Christmas, seven regional telecommunications operators announced their goal of building the longest fully redundant terrestrial communications infrastructure in the Middle East. This is the first time that a communications cable will be capable of covering the entire Persian Gulf region thanks to a single uniform infrastructure. Currently in the Middle East, the historic growth levels of the mobile markets are unlikely to continue so robustly, while instead there is a growing interest in relation to fixed line markets with specific attention given to optic fiber (fiber to the home, F.T.T.H.). This new fiber road could bring the F.T.T.H. to the Middle East, transforming internet access in the area and allowing Middle Eastern countries to communicate with the rest of the world with an enhanced speed and access no more communications with inadequate infrastructures.

The Regional Cable Network (R.C.N.) this is the name of this cable infrastructure  will run for 7,750 kilometers (round trip route). It will  from the city of Fujairah (U.A.E.), which is one of today’s busiest nodes for submarine and fiber cables, to Istanbul (Turkey), passing through Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Amman (Jordan) and Tartus (Syria) before entering the Turkish territory. From Istanbul this cable will be extended also to Europe. In fact, there are already 15 available access points located along the Bulgarian and Greek borders with Turkey. This project will be a relevant entryway to the internet for approximately two billion people. The project will cost approximately $500 million.  

The R.C.N. cable will have a 12.8 terabit per second data carrying capacity and it should be operational by the second quarter of 2011. The basic idea for this project is that it will guarantee that every site along the cable path will always be accessible no matter whether a network’s service is intermittent or interrupted. Up to now, Middle East’s high-speed internet has been totally dependent on submarines cables, which are more expensive both for deployment and servicing. The R.C.N. infrastructure could be repaired in a few hours in the eventuality of a breakdown. Conversely, underwater cables normally take several days to be fixed.

The telecoms operators that during a ceremony held in Ankara (Turkey) signed for the R.C.N. project are: Etisalat (U.A.E.), Mobily (Saudi Arabia), Jordan Telecom/Orange (Jordan), Mada and Zain’s partnership (Jordan), the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (S.T.E., Syria), and a Turkcell’s subsidiary, Superonline (Turkey). During this ceremony, Ali Amiri, the consortium chairman and Etisalat’s carrier & wholesale executive vice president said that the R.C.N. cable would be an unrivalled infrastructure with reference to speed, quality, upgrading possibilities, redundancy and reliability and he underlined that, given the increased demand for intercontinental connectivity in the Middle East, the region’s governments were committed to encouraging investments in the I.C.T. sector as a tool for improving their economies. Moreover, “operators are deploying Next-Generation Networks (N.G.N.s) for both fixed-line and wireless environments, which in turn allow an increasing volume of services to be provided to always more and more consumers. These factors, as well as the growing technical literacy of the local population and availability of rich local content, are all driving the demand for ever more capacity. Etisalat is delighted to partner with six of the region’s leading operators in a project that will enhance the lives and increase the reach of over two billion people”, affirmed Ali Amiri.

The country that could benefit the most from this new I.C.T. infrastructure is Jordan. Apart from the increased competition of its internet access and prices reduction, the cable should allow Jordan to attract many investments in its I.C.T. sector. In fact, although only 10 percent of the cable will run through the Jordanian territory, two points really push Jordan to become a regional hub for the I.C.T. sector. First, the Jordanian part of the cable is exactly in the middle of the infrastructure and secondly, it will give Jordan more I.C.T. capacity and redundancy. “The project is a strategic step as it will help make Jordan an I.C.T. hub exporting new developed internet content and becoming an incubator for new I.T. companies interested into value added services. Global I.C.T. companies will be encouraged to open their regional offices in Jordan as the new cables increases Jordan’s capacity and redundancy” said Abdul Malek Al Jaber, the C.E.O of Zain Jordan. At the same time, Marwan Juma, the I.C.T. minister, pointed out that the cable project would increase Jordan’s I.C.T. capacities four times as much, so that his country would have the opportunity to be the Middle Eastern regional center for mega-I.C.T. companies.

The R.C.N. cable is competing against another Middle Eastern new fiber-optic project: the JADI Link. This network will be connecting Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Amman (Jordan), Damascus (Syria) and Istanbul (Turkey). The JADI Project is the result of the collaboration among Turk Telecom (Turkey), Saudi Telecom Company (S.T.C., Saudi Arabia), Jordan Telecom (Jordan) and the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (Syria). The JADI Link is a totally terrestrial alternative to the Mediterranean and Red Sea corridors. According to the signed agreement the four involved telecommunications operators will deploy the required physical connections among their national fiber-optic networks and in addition to this, they will be implementing a 200 Gbps capacity expansion to their network systems  so that the JADI Link could be operational.