From the GCC to Tel Aviv
Big Interview

From the GCC to Tel Aviv

Mahesh Jaishankar.jpg

Bahrain’s Arc Solutions and Israel’s Bezeq International are collaborating to deliver a new, low-latency route connecting regional hubs. Arc CEO Mahesh Jaishankar tells Saf Malik what the venture could mean for the region

Arc Solutions and Bezeq International have initiated a project that will see Arc extend its network into Bezeq’s native Israel.

In a way, their partnership is just another addition to Arc’s rapidly growing footprint. Established in 2019 it’s a JV between the UAE’s du and Bahrain’s Batelco. With a focus on carrier, cloud, content and major enterprises it promises to simplify intra-regional connectivity. Bezeq’s strength is as an ISP, and it was also the first Israeli company to own a submarine cable system connecting the country to Europe.

But in other ways the recent news is a landmark step, not only for Arc and Bezeq, but the wider region’s connectivity landscape. The two say the direct connection that will be established between Israel and the Middle East will offer the lowest latency route between the two destinations and other regional hubs.

That is a target of 45ms round-trip time and Arc says the partnership will offer capacity of any speed from 1Mbps to 10 gigabytes.

Arc CEO Mahesh Jaishankar says: “We have points of presence (PoPs) across the region, and this will be one of the first partnerships for one of the lowest latencies that are available between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.”

As a provider of integrated networking Arc builds private networks as part of its overall proposition and Jaishankar believes these – which he insists is a relatively new phenomenon in the telecoms world – are something that all industry segments are following, essentially improving security and productivity while allowing customers to completely manage analytics and automation.

“This is what we do for our customers,” Jaishankar says. “We bring data technology, and IoT aspects of the requirement are integrated by us and provided to the customers. We give them a fully private network which they can treat almost like their own network.”

He adds that the need for dependable connectivity is imperative for large and medium enterprises looking for network coverage that will ultimately give them a competitive advantage. “That is where we come in,” he says.

Arc combines solutions that already have dedicated data links, data centres or virtualised cores to create networks with unified connectivity solutions. With this, he believes that the private networks sector is the “most interesting and fascinating area in telecoms”.

With the demand for connectivity continually rising in the Middle East, Jaishankar believes the partnership with Bezeq is in line with Arc’s ambition to create a pan-regional interconnect platform and a highly interconnected Middle Eastern market.

Arc already has multiple terabytes of capacity being deployed in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and is seeking to give businesses in GCC countries a platform to reach opportunities in Israel and vice versa.

However, it would be remiss not to mention this development comes less than two years after the Arab–Israeli normalization peace treaties.

Those details are not for these pages, but the business opportunities that are likely to emerge as a result, point to a seismic shift in regional connectivity dynamics.

A new market

The project won’t be a one hit wonder and Jaishankar is upbeat on the prospect of many more opportunities for Arc in Israel.

“It’s a market that is increasingly seeing requirement coming in between the UAE and Israel, and between Bahrain and Israel,” he says. “So, for us, it’s a very important market.”

In fact, for Jaishankar it’s a top five market in the Middle Eastern region, and data from Global Monitor supports his view – the sustained growth of recent years is forecast to continue until 2025. This is primarily due to increasing urban populations with the rising adoption of 3G, 4G and 5G across countries.

This was only accentuated by the pandemic as users started to work-from-home, resulting in higher service revenues.

The increasing cooperation between the UAE and Israel means that opportunities are plentiful according to Jaishankar, with more businesses looking for connectivity.

“That’s where we come in, we want to help to facilitate that,” he says.

The partnership between the two firms also brings benefits to both regions in which they primarily operate.

“There are gains to be had once you have businesses starting to connect,” he adds. “I can’t yet quantify the benefits that will come, but we’ll see them once connectivity happens and the more offices that open.”

Ultimately, more Israeli companies will open offices in the UAE and Dubai and vice versa, Jaishankar believes.

He is a firm supporter of companies making that decision, adding that Arc intends to create an environment where businesses can work seamlessly across both regions.

However, due to the terrain and geography, there are challenges deploying the network itself. Taking a “two-prong approach”, Jaishankar says it will have protection and low-latency through the use of both terrestrial and subsea elements. Arc will be using Bezeq’s Tel Aviv data centre as a base and will provide connectivity to enterprises out of Israel through that and into the UAE.

“We’re seeking to be a one-stop-shop across Pakistan, Egypt and Israel, those are the kind of regions that we are working on
Mahesh Jaishankar, CEO, Arc Solutions

Network effect

The opportunities that arise will extend beyond the primary parties. Jaishankar says the deal with Bezeq will allow Arc to work with new partners while also allowing its own partners to work with Israeli companies.

Arc’s regional network is multi-service and it’s important to note that this new partnership will serve both enterprise and wholesale requirements.

“We believe that there’s a network effect, in the moment we announce something like this, we see a lot of traction and interest coming up,” he says.

He points to the recent expansion of Arc’s network footprint to Oman with Equinix’s IBX data centre in Muscat as another example that raised interest. Oman’s significance as a subsea landing point has allowed access to cables in Oman, linking back to PoPs in Datamena, SmartHub and Global Zone.

“We saw a spike in requirements, we saw a spike in demand, and that’s how I think the network effect happens,” Jaishankar says.

“The more it connects, the more networks get connected to the Arc network itself and it starts to give our customers more choice.”

This, he says, is one of the company’s main ambitions, to offer a wider choice of subsea cables or routes out of the Middle East into Europe and Asia.

Wider impact

Jaishankar is keen to note that the Middle East has never been as well connected as Europe and North America in terms of the various ISPs and data centres available.

The region has suffered from strict regulations and limited infrastructure in the past, but such partnerships could ensure wider connectivity for Middle Eastern internet users in future.

“We’re trying to solve this by making the local content stay local”, he says.“Right now, we see a lot of the connectivity goes to Europe and then comes back and that is something that we’re seeking to remove.”

Thus, Arc’s vision is to connect emerging hubs like Datamena and SmartHub in the UAE, Global Zone in Bahrain and the Equinix Muscat facility. Once interlinked, Jaishankar says more content will stay in the Middle East instead of going through Europe. That is a “very untenable and wasteful exercise”, he adds.

To make the connectivity as easy as possible, Arc’s products that connect customers to internet exchanges will allow the exchange of traffic within the region and ensure the strength of the network. Arc has been working with various teams to devise ways of having diverse paths and multiple routes between its PoPs and its hubs to maximise availability.

Arc has PoPs in jurisdictions that it labels “historically complicated” and its presence in such locations will help with its latest partnership.

Unlike Europe, Jaishankar says, regulations in the Middle East change repeatedly, working environments often change between countries and pricing sometimes makes it complex to forge partnerships for carriers from outside the Middle East.

“We’re seeking to be a one-stop-shop across Pakistan, Egypt and Israel, those are the kind of regions that we are working on,” he says.

These countries are complex and time-consuming to deploy in, he adds, but Arc is trying to make it simple for customers to access data centres in the region. With that said, Jaishankar adds that Arc is prepared for unforeseen situations.

“If there is a cut on a subsea cable or some damage on a terrestrial route,” Jaishankar says, “Arc is more than prepared for this and will still be able to provide its services to customers.

“Our ambition is to make [the network] as flexible, diverse and reliable as possible and to have availability for our customers.”

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