The Middle East, located at the juncture of Eurasia, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean stretching a landmass of 7million sqm and home to a population of 370 million, is a region steeped in a remarkable history as the origin of civilization. For over two millennia it has maintained its position as a vital center for global affairs with its strategic geographic location for trade. From its first maritime trade-route dating back more than 2,000 years, it still remains a global hub for shipping and commerce of valuable goods and services. So how is the region placed to hold that position to the increasingly valuable commodity of data and communication?
Several countries in the Middle East are leading various global rankings of ICT Indicators. Mobile Broadband penetration is generally above 90% across the region. UAE, KSA, and Qatar are all among the top four countries in the world for mobile broadband speeds. The Middle East is one of the most youthful region in the world, 28% of the population between 15-29 years, and this young demographic is driving current and future demand for internet speed and quality. The region love for online gaming and social media across demographics in the region is well known, with UAE, Egypt, and KSA ranking among top 18 global markets for online gaming penetration and with every person in the Middle East spending 3.5 hours per day across various social media platforms. Governments across the Middle East are also amplifying its commitment to digitalizing its economy and have been launching mega-projects to drive digital transformation, with annual investments into digital transformation across the wider META-region set to top $58 billion by 2025 according to Gartner. The Egyptian Government have launched its Digital Egypt under the Egypt Vision 2030 umbrella, both Saudi Arabia and UAE Governments have several digital programs as part of its respective Vision 2030.
The importance of communication infrastructure to support these trends cannot be understated. 95 percent of the global internet traffic traverse subsea cables, and subsea cables role in delivering internet across the globe have and are becoming increasingly critical for any country and region that aspire to flourish in the global economy. A recent study showed that a 1% increase in mobile broadband adoption and fixed broadband contribute a 0.15% and 0.08% GDP growth.
The Middle East has built it’s subsea cable infrastructure for decades. The GCC-countries (Bahrain, KSA, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE) have 34 connection points to more than 10 subsea cables connecting Middle East to Europe, Africa, and Asia and several new pan-continental cables are scheduled to go live within the next two years, such as 2Africa, the Blue and Raman cables, Oman-Australia-Cable , EMIC-1, IEX, Africa-1, and Peace Cable.
Beyond connectedness to the rest of the world the Middle East is expanding its regional infrastructure in terms of datacenters, internet exchanges, and hosting of the key cloud and content platforms. The region is home to 98 datacenters across 14 countries and numerous large-scale datacenters are in deployment. There are 12 Internet Exchanges across 9 countries and a critical mass of the global and regional content and cloud players are now hosting across the region. The region has built a solid foundation of key infrastructure and is well positioned to amplify its already strong position to serve the region’s ever growing demand for access to applications and services locally.
But in spite of the robust ICT infrastructure, 83% of the region’s internet is still served via subsea-cables from Europe.
It is not uncommon in the region that networks of neighbouring countries or even networks within same country exchange local traffic at exchange-points in Europe or Asia.
This is not only adding latency and costs, but also exposes such local traffic to subsea cable outages. At ARC, we believe that enabling regional traffic to stay regional is essential to unleash the full potential of the region to become a natural global hub of communications and data. There are three key areas that are significant to building an interconnect fabric that enables the network effect of a hub economy.
At ARC we are building a regional connectivity platform that reduce the barriers for interconnections between local, regional and international networks.
The opportunities are truly endless and with the right ambition from market actors, the Middle East is perfectly positioned to become the global hub of the digital age.