Later this year, a new player will formally emerge onto the bandwidth scene in the Middle East. Gulf Bridge International (GBI), the region’s first privately owned and operated carrier neutral submarine cable will go into service, adding substantially to the diversity and overall connectedness of the Persian Gulf and surrounding areas. With us today is the co-founder and CEO of GBI, Ahmed Mekky:
TR: Could you give a brief overview of where Gulf Bridge International’s cable will land?
AM: We land in all the countries in the Gulf region. We extend to the east all the way to Mumbai, India, and west through the Red Sea, across Egypt and the Mediterranean, and land in Mazara Sicily. We have also acquired the fiber all the way from Mazara to Milan and from there we can provide onward connectivity to leading European cities. This is the cable built for phase 1.
TR: When will you be ready for service?
AM: We are expecting to be ready for service before the end of the year. The ready for service date will be announced before the end of 2011.
TR: Where do you hope to expand to after the initial launch?
AM: We are considering other phases for expansion to add diversity. We have already completed one of them – we are now in Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, and Paris. We are considering options to expand eastward to Singapore. There are two options, we could cross India terrestrially from Mumbai to Chennai and continue subsea, or we could go around India all subsea. We are evaluating the best path to take as we continue to drive our business forward.
TR: GBI recently announced its intention to deploy 100G gear on its network, when will you be offering that capability to customers?
AM: The technological implementation is already announced, and we will offer the service very soon to customers who operate in the region. This will help us to serve them with more capacity on our network. We will be able to serve the needs of our customers from 20G, 40G to 100G with more capacity on the existing infrastructure. We are trying this new 100G technology to serve the demand for this underserved region, and are the first to deploy it here.
TR: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in building GBI?
AM: The biggest challenge has been trying to set up a new industry model here. This is a challenge by itself. With the progress we have made so far, I think we are proving that this is a successful model that will set a new standard. The classic way to build a subsea network is the controlled club model: a group of operators investing together to build the network to connect themselves to each other. But starting with the GBI model we believe carrier neutral is the future. We are not labeled as a system for specific set of operators. This is the new culture for our region, the new model. This is a major historical change.
TR: How has carrier neutrality influenced your relationships with the traditional incumbents in the Gulf?
AM: We are enjoying being neutral, it’s definitely an advantage. The traditional incumbents were doubtful early on, but they believe now that this is their future and they are our landing partners. Our model is music to their ears of regulators because we serve all of the operators equally. Together we have the most comprehensive network of the region via the combined domestic networks of our partners. It’s the first time ever they have all been connected.
TR: You have been the driving force behind this project since the beginning, how did you get started?
AM: There is a regional need to become a strategic hub – it is capacity hungry. When I shared the idea with a few people in the region who I trust, I was told it was a difficult topic, a very big challenge. We built a professional, structured organization, learning from the experiences of the past to create a new network design. With the support of a distinguished group of shareholders, I raised the money to get the best caliber of people in the industry.
TR: Have you seen much pre-launch interest from carriers outside the Middle East?
AM: Yes, we have. There is a lot of interest from outside the region. Actually, they tell us they were waiting for this highway into the region. A few years from now we will be a true bridge between the Gulf and the rest of the world.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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