x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Net room with a view to the future

The UAE's telecommunications operators will boost the amount of internet that comes into the country by nearly seven times its current capacity.

An employee monitors data at Etisalat's internet submarine cable landing facilities in Fujairah.
An employee monitors data at Etisalat's internet submarine cable landing facilities in Fujairah.

FUJAIRAH // Internet connections across the country are set to become up to seven times faster as telecommunications operators hook up to a new network of cables.

Etisalat and du are connecting to submarine and terrestrial internet cables that will increase the country's bandwidth capacity to more than 17 terabits a second from 2.5 terabits a second.

The nerve centres for these new networks are two clusters of buildings in Fujairah, from which most of the country's internet is sourced.

Inside are the computer servers that analyse and route the traffic to the country. But the equipment occupies a fraction of the entire room, with space left to expand existing connections or build new ones.

A series of black cables, each about the width of a pen, surface from the ceiling and are threaded into a cupboard-sized server that whirs with a high-pitched, computerised din.

The additional capacity will be served to meet the booming demand in broadband internet in the UAE. Broadband internet subscriber numbers grew from 572,112 users in January 2009 to 779,828 users last November, figures from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority show.

"In terms of the international connectivity, [the UAE] keeps building new cables and upgrading the capacity of the ones in place," says Alan Mauldin, a research director with the telecoms consultancy TeleGeography.

Ali al Amiri, the Etisalat executive vice president in charge of the operator's carrier and wholesale department, says: "We are matching the speed of technology, which is doubling every year, with the amount of broadband [internet] we have."

Etisalat is a major investor in the Regional Cable Network, a 7,800km terrestrial connection that will link the UAE with operators in six other countries and provide more than 12.8 terabits a second of connectivity. While Etisalat may control the main routes through which the country receives its internet, its rival du is slowly catching up.

Its first cable landing facility was built in six months and is designed to provide a capacity of 3.84 terabits a second through the Europe India Gateway (EIG) cable system.

Gulf Bridge International (GBI), a private company, is leasing space on the top floor of du's facility and will launch its connection with a design capacity of up to 5 terabits a second in the next month.

"We have so many options now where to push this traffic," said Hatem Bamatraf, the senior vice president for network development at du.

"But the strategy on how to push the traffic is based on negotiations on commercial terms. For example, if you want to connect to Europe, you have to figure out how much connectivity you need, the delay and how much it will cost."

Both operators maintain their internet capacities will continue to grow to meet the continued surge in demand. And while competition between Etisalat and du will probably continue to drive internet prices lower, analysts say that in the global picture, the UAE's economy will be the main beneficiary.

"It isn't just the geographic location that benefits the UAE, it's the policies set in place that creates some gravity for it and sucks in the need to have more bandwidth and foreign investment," Mr Mauldin said.

"But at the end of the day, connecting to the rest of the world is the lifeblood of any economy."