In September 2013 four telecom operators — du, Zain, Zajil Telecom and Vodafone Qatar —formed the Middle East-Europe Terrestrial System (MEETS). They announced a project with two phases, a first one consisted of a terrestrial link between the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. The second one would extend the connectivity from Kuwait to Turkey via Iraq.
The consortium invested $36 million jointly and the project was expected to go live in the first quarter of next year. However, it is not ready yet. “We are expecting it to be completed by the end of the second quarter of 2015. We have had some delays, but it is likely to be done by the end of this quarter,” Mahesh Jaishankar, vice president at datamena, explained to CommsMEA.
“The fibre is ready, the equipment is in the final stage of installation and it was tested before the end of May and June 2015 should be the effective date when the capacity is operationally and commercially available,” Henri Kassab, managing director International, Wholesale and Roaming of Zain Group, to CommsMEA.
Jaishankar added that they faced different challenges as it is a multi-project companies. “It has challenges in terms of rules and regulations. There were more logistic issues that delayed it than other challenges.”
“The challenges were many for the consortium members, they had to finalise a master service agreement, overcome the regulatory hurdles, pre-select and issue RFP for equipment and support, decide and agree on modus operandi for each member responsibility pre- and- operation of the system. However there was a ‘meeting of the minds’ thanks to the common wisdom of all the partners,” said Kassab.
Datamena saw that 97% of the content in the region was hosted outside of this region and decided to improve the figure and host more content in the region. “Now this has changed and around 85% is still outside. We have been successful in bringing a big chunk into the region but still we have to work more. Primarily, because there is not connectivity or we weren’t a telecom hub infrastructure, that is why we started datamena,” Jaishankar said.
In order to host more content, the company decided to connect other countries in the region to promote this idea. “We partner with Vodafone, Zain and Zajil to create MEETs,” he added.
“Zain was not a founding party of this consortium, Mada Bahrain, which is Zain’s wholly owned subsidiary, was invited by du to join this consortium. It immediately evaluated the opportunity and joined,” Kassab said.
Jaishankar explains that one of the key factors for them was to develop a low key cost point. “Right now the cost of connecting in the region is expensive. For example, we see that Kuwait to UAE is 80% of the cost from Kuwait to London, so why will someone come here instead of going to London?,” he added. He believes that the connectivity points should be brought down and that MEETs is the solution for it.
This open cable system, which aims to make regional connectivity less expensive and more competitive and offer customers an improved data connectivity experience, is based on the fibre that existed in the electrical pilots. According to Jaishankar, this allows the consortium to get an improved cost point.MEETS will have an initial capacity of 200Gbps and be carried over an optical ground wire associated with a regional high-tension electricity network – reducing the risk of cable cuts.
The consortium awarded Ciena a contract to provide its converged packet optical networking solutions, and thus kicking off the execution phase of the project.
MEETS is using Ciena’s converged packet optical networking solutions to give regional and international carriers, as well as local and global ICT companies, access to high-capacity, scalable, wholesale network services to extend network reach, enable high-bandwidth enterprise and data centre traffic, and facilitate LTE 4G mobile expansions. The system will be managed by a 24/7 Network Operating Centre (NOC).
“We have seeing that internet has been rapidly decentralised, so it is not hosted in one large data centre somewhere. Now the content players want to be as close as possible to the customer and that is what we are trying to do. That is why we have got a lot of gaming companies, content players,” Jaishankar explained.
The system is designed to be an economically and technically competitive alternative for connectivity within the Gulf and a terrestrial route to Europe for reduced latency and higher reliability. This second phase, which will extend connectivity from Kuwait to Turkey via Iraq, will offer the connectivity to Europe. However, the consortium has not started it yet.
Jaishankar explained that the consortium is in talks with partners to see how this second phase can take place as they don’t have a date yet because of the political unsustainability in the country. He said that consortium is “close to a solution” and added that they would like to announce the start by 2016. The consortium has not announced the investment required for the second phase yet.