Where east MEETS west
It has been a big year for datamena. Since launching one of the Middle East’s first carrier-neutral hubs, the company has now set its sights on expanding connectivity into the region through a new terrestrial cable link to Europe.
This September, datamena joined the growing selection of companies exploring terrestrial cable routes between Europe and Asia.
In partnership with Vodafone, Zain and Zajil, the company plans to launch the Middle East-Europe Terrestrial System (MEETS) – a 1,400km route through the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, then on to Europe.
Like other terrestrial projects in the region, it hopes to provide a valuable alternative route for traffic between Europe and Asia. Like other terrestrial projects in the region, it also faces a steep challenge in passing through some of the world’s most politically unstable nations.
“The project has been two years in the making. We had the opportunity to utilise some of the existing fibre, and then started talking to potential carriers to build a route,” says Mahesh Jaishankar, VP at datamena. “There’s been a real drive to establish more alternate routes.”
There are three options for terrestrial routes between Europe and the Middle East – through Syria, Iran or Iraq. MEETS opted for the latter.
Due to go live in Q1 of 2014, the project primarily addresses the needs of its four partners: “They have their own organic requirements, and that by itself justifies building the route,” says Jaishankar.
It will then sell additional capacity to other players in the region, with Jaishankar claiming there has already been strong interest from customers for 10G multiples of capacity on the route.
The launch of MEETS will neatly support datamena’s goal to host more content in the Middle East. Announced in late 2012, datamena is the result of a strategic alliance between the UAE operator du and global data centre giant Equinix. It offers a carrier-neutral transit and content hub for carriers, operators and content providers, hosted at the company’s facility in Dubai, UAE.
So far in 2013, it has attracted a steady stream of carrier customers, including the likes of Level 3 Communications, Integrated Telecom Company (ITC) and Vodafone Qatar.
“The initial focus was about getting carriers on board and getting the ecosystem started,” says Jaishankar. “Now it is also about attracting the companies who will be using the ecosystem and utilising its capabilities and connectivity.”
Over 15 independent networks are already present in the datamena ecosystem, which Jaishankar believes is enough to attract the early adopters of cloud. “I think more carriers will come and join in, and the larger gaming and cloud providers will come on board next,” he adds.
To support this, he reveals the company has just signed a partnership with an undisclosed online gaming platform.
Hosted within datamena, the launch of region’s first carrier-neutral internet exchange, UAE-IX, has also helped stimulate new types of customers in the Middle East.
“The internet exchange is creating a lot of inter-ISP connectivity, which is creating a new set of customers who want to come into the region and provide a better customer experience.”
Also helping to entice new customers is datamena’s transit zone, which allows carriers and cloud providers to transit traffic in and out of the UAE – essentially providing a free zone to encourage intra-country connectivity.
“The transit zone has been a key driver for customers to come in. It allows them to transit without paying a lot of money for bandwidth and means they can indirectly connect by hosting their own servers and equipment in this zone,” Jaishankar explains.
Jaishankar believes the company’s partnership with Equinix helps bring together two important elements for customers: “We have a regional presence and they have the global footprint. They bring in their expertise and experience in creating large hubs, where carriers and enterprises come together. They also bring a certain comfort factor for customers having dealt with Equinix worldwide – a familiar set of products and quality that they are used to,” he says.
“This makes datamena a very powerful proposition, particularly if you factor in the transit zone and MEETS project.”
As well as offering the industry an alternative route for traffic, the MEETS project is widely expected to also help drive pricing for connectivity in the wider Middle East. It is another factor which in the long term could help ensure more content is hosted in the region.
“We expect to see more content hosted in the region. We see the bulk of Middle Eastern content sits in Europe, the US or Asia, and a lot of money is spent on buying IP transit or long-lining it to reach that content,” says Jaishankar. “One of the reasons the content doesn’t come into the region is because it is not as well connected as it could be.”
All in all, Jaishankar is confident that the UAE is primed to become a major telecoms hub for the region: “I think if you look at all the major hubs around the world, the telecoms hubs have tended to follow the logistics or financial hubs. There is a symbiotic relationship there in terms of commerce. And that is something Dubai has,” he says.