STC readies Saudi Arabia as the next big data hub

04 March 2019 | Jason McGee-Abe

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Capacity speaks to Alan Whelan, vice president of STC Wholesale, about the collaboration between STC and LINX, and how the region is primed for data innovation.

Could you give us a brief overview of STC and its strengths?

STC is the largest telecoms operator in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) with over 100 million customers worldwide.

We have over a 50% market share in Saudi Arabia serving consumers, enterprise and wholesale customers. We also have 99% mobile coverage and market leadership in fibre-to-the-x (FTTx) in Saudi Arabia.

The market in Saudi Arabia is home to some of highest internet usage per user in the world currently served remotely by STC’s global network. In addition, we are also a leading investor in subsea cables and fibre networks with 158,000km of fibre across MENA, Asia and Europe.

At group level we have also made investments in six countries worldwide (Bahrain, UAE Turkey, South Africa, Malaysia), particularly in the areas of ICT and innovation. Our strategic focus looking ahead is in the areas of digitisation, customer experience transformation and global expansion.

How and why will Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region benefit from an Internet exchange point in STC’s Jeddah datacenter MENAGateway (MG1)?

Data users in Saudi Arabia are some of the most prolific users per head in the world, the majority of the content they access is done so remotely from Europe and Asia.

An IX will localise the internet to Saudi Arabia, dramatically reducing latency for users and enhancing their overall internet experience. We hope to mirror the benefits demonstrated by IX’s in Europe such as DE-CIX, AMS-IX and of course LINX here in Saudi Arabia.

JED-IX will be the first IX in Saudi, which is by far the largest market in the region, attracting many content providers to come closer to better serve their customers via JED-IX.

In addition, Jeddah is ideally positioned geographically to act as the leading hub with the densest concentration of subsea cables in the region to pull content from all locations.

To complement this, STC’s terrestrial fibre network provides low latency access to its 9 Gulf Cooperation Council neighbours giving the wider region the opportunity to connect in MG1 and to JED-IX.

Other benefits include one hop access to Africa markets via highest quality submarine cable systems connectivity.

How will JED-IX, powered by LINX, help deliver on STC's plan to establish Saudi Arabia as the key Hub for telecoms connectivity in the region?

JED-IX powered by LINX will act as the core interconnection catalyst for growth in the region. MenaGateway1 or MG1 is the home of JED-IX in Jeddah and we plan on to expanding to launch into MG2, 3 and 4 as demand grows.

Combined with the geographic location and connectivity options available in MG1, JED-IX is very well positioned to see explosive growth and quickly become the default Saudi Arabia IX and leading data hub in the MENA region.

STC’s ambition is to develop JEDIX into the leading Internet and data hub in the MENA region. In LINX we have a global leading IX partner who will help accelerate the delivery of this ambition and create a thriving interconnection ecosystem in the Kingdom.

How does JED-IX fit with STC's overall vision?

JED-IX supports STC’s vision. Using STC’s extensive core assets such as data centres, subsea capacity and terrestrial networks, re-inventing and enhancing customer internet experience by localizing content therefore reducing latency as well as expanding STC’s regional presence through our MG1 data hub.

What are the main benefits to STC that LINX can bring to the JED-IX exchange? How do you see the STC and LINX partnership working in the future?

Its LINX’s world-class credentials, extensive network of over 850 members, its passion to deliver the best internet experience to everyone and its continued innovation to build, test and deliver world class exchange solutions that LINX brings to the JED-IX exchange.

I see the STC’s MG1 JED-IX collaboration creating a successful IX and data hub business model that we can replicate in other locations in Saudi Arabia, as demand increases, as well as other countries as STC expands globally.