Telecommunications companies in the Gulf operate networks that are technologically ahead of counterparts in Europe and North America, says a senior executive of Cisco, a leading industry equipment provider. Because of the amount of infrastructure development in the region in the past 20 years, Gulf operators have already installed hardware that can handle voice, data and television connections, said Robert McIntyre, the chief technical officer for Cisco's service provider group.
Meanwhile, counterparts in Europe and North America have been catching up with state of the art technology, he said. Mr McIntyre was in Dubai over the past week to hold "strategic discussions" with some of Cisco's regional customers including Etisalat, Saudi Telecom, du and Mobily. "A lot of telecoms operators here have already built converged networks which didn't exist 20 years ago," he said. Converged networks handle the transmission of voice, data and television signals on a single connection.
Telecoms companies in the western world are spending billions of dollars to upgrade multiple networks to deliver a converged service, Mr McIntyre said. He highlighted Etisalat's nationwide rollout of the fibre-to-the-home network as an example of forward thinking. Etisalat has spent as much as Dh5 billion (US$1.36bn) building a fibre-optic network across the UAE with theoretically unlimited capacity for data transmission. The network is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
"Everyone in the world that runs a network has a different starting point," Mr McIntyre said. "I won't mention any names, but there are major wireless operators in North America and Europe who are dramatically upgrading their core networks to what's already been deployed in the Gulf region." Robust telecoms networks are increasingly important as more people in the Middle East access the internet through mobile devices, said Vint Cerf, a vice president of Google, who was in Dubai this week for a technology conference.
"The mobile platform is becoming an extremely important avenue for which online services need to be delivered, because that's how many people in the region get their online access," Mr Cerf said on Wednesday. Cisco's Middle East customers "have the same questions you're asking," Mr McIntyre said. "We have conversations about what are the applications that are working, what are the applications that are not working and how do we make sure we're ready for what's two to three years away from now."