By Paul Rendek
Internet infrastructure in the Middle East has grown rapidly in recent years, as millions of people across the region came online and innovative new services were created. The Internet infrastructure that is being developed today will be a key factor as the Middle East takes its place as a major business centre in the years to come.
The Good News
The internet is relatively young in the Middle East. This provides the region with an advantage over some more developed countries, giving operators the opportunity to deploy the latest technologies without the burden of legacy infrastructure. A good example is the rapid roll out of LTE technologies in the region. This provides a high-speed broadband wireless infrastructure which accelerated the penetration of mobile internet.
The continued development of the internet in the Middle East is not without challenges, the most pressing of which is IPv4 exhaustion. This is a global issue that is affecting networks everywhere.
IPv4 is the numbering system that is currently used to route packets on the Internet.In 2012, the RIPE NCC, the Regional Internet Registry for the Middle East, Europe, and parts of Central Asia, announced that it had reached its final large block of IPv4 addresses and addresses would be distributed on a restricted basis in the future.
Why is this a concern? Because wherever the Internet is growing, more addresses are needed. Cisco predicts a 71% growth in mobile data traffic in the MEA region by 2020, resulting in a colossal 879 million mobile users. This is in addition to strong demand from “machine to machine” technologies and domain names.
Luckily, there is a solution: IPv6. With 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses, IPv6 has more than enough to sustain the future growth of the internet. However, deploying IPv6 requires planning, training and compatible equipment.
Another challenge is pricing. internet in the Middle East still costs significantly more than other regions, which is often due to a lack of peering agreements between network operators. In some countries, it can be preferable to use international connections for domestic traffic exchange. This may be due to inflated prices offered by monopoly incumbents or because competing service providers would rather pay an international ISP to transport domestic traffic than peer with their local competitor. There are cases of traffic between networks in the Middle East travelling via Europe, simply because the networks in question don’t peer. This adds latency and increases transit costs, which are ultimately passed down to the customer.
Across the Middle East, some countries have been quick to recognise the need to deploy IPv6, such as the national IPv6 Task Force in Saudi Arabia, and the efforts of the TRA in the United Arab Emirates.
Progress towards full IPv6 adoption requires understanding and engagement from stakeholders at all levels. Also encouraging has been the slow but steady growth of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) across the region. Since being established in 2007, Beirut-IX has expanded its traffic a hundredfold and the presence of large international businesses at the IXP attracts others to the area, creating its own ecosystem. Other success stories include UAE-IX, Palestine-IX, and DEC-IX in Istanbul, and several additional IXPs are in the planning stages.
A Bright Future Ahead
The actions taken by network operators today will pave the way for a high-performing and resilient internet infrastructure in the future.
By ensuring a timely and effective transition towards IPv6 and taking steps to facilitate peering and interconnection between networks, the internet in the Middle East can continue to deliver on its potential, leading to economic growth in the region.