Four telecoms are partnering to activate a 1400km fiber optic cable line in the Gulf to link Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and ultimately Europe. MEETS, the Middle East-Europe Terrestrial System, will bring broadband services to an area that has been largely dependent on mobile devices for the high speed connectivity so vital to commerce and business networking.
The cabling was laid by the Gulf Cooperation Council as part of a power grid developed over the last decade to service six Arabian Gulf nations. In 2008 one overview of the project indicated, “Other than acting as a transmission network owner and transmission system operator for a 400 kV and 220 kV system connecting six countries, the GCC Interconnection Authority (GCCIA) is currently studying the potential means of utilizing the extra capacity provided by the fiber optic cable to enhance the telecommunication grid in the GCC and thus provide other opportunities of economic benefit to the region.”
Lacking affordable, dependable broadband, residents of the Middle East have grown dependent on mobile devices in recent years. One study conducted by Google (News - Alert) found that 56 percent of respondents used a mobile device to access the Internet daily; the penetration rate in the UAE is the highest in the region at 74 percent. The Q1 Mobility Report released by Ericsson (News - Alert) found that globally, one in sixteen mobile subscriptions is in the Middle East.
Gulf nations, along with Africa, are anticipated to be the largest growth market for mobile services over the next five years, largely fueled by the popularity of video and personal connections. The Ericsson study projects 700 million mobile subscriptions will be added in that part of the world by 2018, when global reach for mobile connectivity should reach 60 percent. Mobile manufacturers, recognizing the incredible market available in the Middle East, should put up some tough competition for this terrestrial broadband initiative. BlackBerry (News - Alert) is already at it, choosing to debut ITS first smartphone, the BlackBerry Z30, to the Middle East and Europe.
It does seem that wherever the Internet reaches consumers use it for similar purposes: Sixty percent of mobile users in the Middle East search for products and services, 49 percent look up travel information and the average user downloads 23 apps each month.
The fiber system MEETS will run across has gone largely unused since it was laid by the GCC. This partnership includes a 15-year lease and management contract allowing Zain to provide service to Saudi Arabia, du to service the UAE, Vodafone (News - Alert) Qatar servicing Qatar, and Zajil in Bahrain and Kuwait. Expected network capacity is 2,300 gigabytes per second, which should readily handle the current Gulf usage rate of 500 Gbps.
The ultimate plan is for the system to provide a stable, reliable link between the Middle East and Europe; however, that phase of the project is uncertain as the routing will need to pass through Iraq and Turkey.