* Consortium comprises Vodafone, Zain, du and Zajil.
* Kuwait-to-UAE network to be active in early 2014
* Project cost estimated at $35 million
* Long-term aim is overland connection to Europe
By Matt Smith
DUBAI, Sept 30 Britain's Vodafone and
three Gulf telecoms companies have formed a consortium to launch
a 1,400km fibre network to meet rising demand for broadband
services in the region.
Vodafone, Kuwait's Zain, du of the United
Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwaiti internet service provider Zajil
will create the Middle East-Europe Terrestrial System (MEETS)
with the long-term aim of connecting the network overland to
MEETS will activate a largely dormant fibre-optic network
built as part of the 1,400km power grid installed by the Gulf
Cooperation Council's (GCC) interconnection authority. The
network runs from Kuwait to Fujairah, an eastern emirate in the
UAE on the Gulf of Oman, via Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
The consortium has signed a 15-year rental contract to
activate and manage the fibre network. The GCC Interconnection
Authority is owned by the six GCC countries.
The network will have estimated capacity of 2,300 gigabytes
per second (gbps) and is expected to launch in the first quarter
of 2014, the companies said at a news conference in Dubai,
adding that the project will cost about $35 million. Total Gulf
usage is estimated to be about 500 gbps at present.
"Demand will increase exponentially," said Osman Sultan,
chief executive of du.
Smartphone penetration is particularly high in the Gulf
region, where the lack of an efficient fixed fibre network in
countries such as Kuwait and Bahrain means that many customers
access the Internet primarily via mobile devices rather than
through a home subscription.
Zain, parent of Saudi Arabia's No.3 operator Zain Saudi
, will be the landing party in Saudi Arabia, du in the
UAE and Vodafone Qatar in its home market, while Zajil
will cover Kuwait and Bahrain. Vodafone owns a 23 percent stake
in its Qatari unit.
The consortium declined to predict when it would begin work
on connecting the network to Europe. This phase of the project
will present more challenges with its likely route via Iraq and
Fixed-line internet connectivity in Iraq is expensive,
unreliable and limited to a few small areas because of a lack of
basic infrastructure and deteriorating security.