Big Interview

Ooredoo bolsters Tunisia with PEACE subsea cable

Najib Khan FULL 2022.jpg

Back in 2017, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed kicking off the start of the year's long journey that is the PEACE subsea cable system.

The 15,000km cable uses the latest 200G and WSS technology, delivering over 16Tbps, per fibre pair, with landings in France, Malta, Cyprus, Egypt, Djibouti, Pakistan, Somalia, the Maldives, Kenya, the Seychelles, Singapore and South Africa.

In November 2022, confirmation that the Pakistan to France main segment of the cable had completed construction and was entering into testing phase, but the system continues to grow.

During Capacity Europe 2022, PCCW Global and Ooredoo Tunisia inked a deal to extend the cable to Tunisia by 2024. Ooredoo will have total ownership of the system within Tunisia, and it “promises to offer customers significantly enhanced data speed and quality at a vastly reduced cost, when connecting with Marseille”.

Capacity spoke to Najib Khan, group chief business services officer at Ooredoo, about the branch cable and what it will mean for the country.

According to Najib the decision to bring the PEACE Cable to Tunisia, builds on the longstanding relationship already formed between Ooredoo and consortia member, PCCW Global.

"We have launched the PEACE Cable in the Maldives a few years ago and now we're doing the same in Tunisia," he says. "The key driver for us is to create a carrier neutral data centre with capacity for the country to leverage and create greater ICT opportunities."

Network diversity was also a key consideration, but Khan says overwhelmingly it was the opportunity and demand creation for African markets, especially for emerging markets like Tunisia.

"We already have capacity through another cable called Didon and SEA-ME-WE 4, but this is an invitation to the large hyperscalers, OTTs and the local ICT businesses," he adds.

The arrival of PEACE Cable in Tunisia is less likely to drive any new digital use cases and more likely support the ones that are already there and in need of more capacity.

"Whether its e-commerce, mobile money, enabling data centre services such as cloud, hybrid cloud and on-premises cloud services, when new services like these get launched the hyperscalers are looking for quality capacity to support this and through PEACE Cable will look at Tunisia much more seriously than before," adds Khan.

"Local ICT business is equally as important to us, and a carrier neutral facility will accelerate that local ecosystem further."

As full owners of the Tunisia branch of the cable, Khan says "we will give priority to new businesses as well as our own organic requirements."

With a short path to Marseille of approximately 700km and the branch unit roughly about 100km from Bizerte in Tunisia where landing station resides, Khas says "this is why we believe this new cable will attract more businesses, hyperscalers and CDNs to utilise this new infrastructure"

As Ooredoo Tunisia already has a licence to offer fixed services in the country, "fixed line and terrestrial networks are part of our strategy to connect more dynamic locations to the existing infrastructure, as well as create a mesh so that there's multiple routes to and from the country," adds Khan.

Utilising its cable landing station in Bizerte, Tunisia Khan says this will "give us the freedom to innovate in terms of what new services we can implement, and as is another benefit of having sole ownership of the system branch and operating it in a carrier neutral way."

At the same time, the company is investing in a new technology, a type of reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer (ROADM) – which is an optical add-drop multiplexer that enables the ability to remotely switch traffic from a wavelength-division multiplexing system at the wavelength layer.

Khan says this will bring much-needed "flexibility and agility in cable configuration" to the system, and though things like hollowcore fibre and SDM are not on the cards, WSS ROADM technology also lays the foundation for future expansion needs.

Capacity on the cable will be sold either under lease, under an IRU or sold as whole fibre pairs, as well as selling spectrum if whole fibres aren’t required, according to the needs of the customer.

"We are very flexible because I think the needs in Tunisia is a market which is growing but the needs are gradual, so we give that flexibility to any of our customers who are starting off slow and see where the market goes," adds Khan.

Ooredoo's wholesale business which Khan leads has a strategy to grow its capacity believing that the growth it is seeing in digital consumption is immense.

"We are planning ahead of time and investing in cables knowing that the exponential growth of data consumption is going accelerate in many of the markets that we operate in," he says.

"Connecting to Marseille gives us a very good path to ensure that low latency, local caching, local peering in some cases, will fuel the growth in content and gaming, as well as in high level ICT business."

PEACE Cable was selected not only due to the existing relationship with the PCCW Global but also its proximity to Marseille and synergies in the way both Ooredoo Tunisia and the PEACE consortium work.

"Not only do we have a good partner in PCCW Global but the consortium is nimble and fast to work with," he explains. "Sometimes these cables can become very monolithic in the responsiveness as well as the execution we find that this is going to be very agile and fast and this cable is going to come together very quickly."

Typically, subsea cable projects are hindered by approvals, the supply chain as well as the execution ability of the partners, "in this particular case, we are confident about 2024 for this project to be completed, which is less than 24 months," adds Khan.

With approvals from the local government already in the works, the supply chain procurement already actioned in terms of the manufacturing of the cable, a project plan already in place and the physical survey desktop survey completed, the next stages of the project are moving at pace.

"Right now, is about pure execution, governance and program management of the project, but we are right on track," says Khan.

"We operate in Asia, GCC, Middle East and North Africa, all on very different sides of the world and that presents a great opportunity for subsea cable networks. This is why we believe that our investments in creating more capacity and creating data hubs will help in the growth and digital consumption of the countries that we operate in."