Middle East and North Africa Pioneer the World's Most Advanced Network Technologies
November 10, 2003
By Jason Deign, News@Cisco
You are probably aware of wireless local area networks (WLANs) - the growing technology used to allow people on the move to access corporate networks or the Internet, without wires, in 'hotspot' areas.
But how about wireless metropolitan area networks spanning entire geographical regions? Although this may sound like science fiction, it is already a fact in the Aqaba Special Economic Zone, which covers more than 375 km2 encompassing the seaport city of Aqaba in southern Jordan.
There, stable atmospheric conditions and a flat, featureless terrain with clear lines of sight over many kilometers have made it possible to provide 11 megabit-per-second (Mbps) links between eight major hubs via Cisco Aironet 350 Series wireless bridges with directional high-gain Yagi antennas.
Previously these locations - which include the international airport, city center, docks, government revenue departments and border crossing points - were all "island nodes", says Omar Qawas, management information systems director for the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA.)
"We opted for wireless because its total cost of ownership was lower than the cost of connecting our sites through the local telecommunications infrastructure," he says.
"It can also be deployed more quickly, provides higher bandwidth and stability and gives us ownership of the physical transport layer of our network."
Pioneering as it is, the use of wireless in wide area networks is just one of many examples of ground-breaking technology use in the Middle East and North Africa. The region is also home to some highly impressive IP telephony projects, for instance.
Also in Jordan, Fastlink, the country's leading mobile service provider with close to 1 million customers, is using Cisco technology to handle more than 65,000 calls a day coming into its new IP Contact Center, which hosts around 200 agents.
The underlying technology used in Fastlink's contact center is Cisco AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data) - a platform which is also supporting one of the region's biggest IP telephony projects, at the US$750 million Citystars Heliopolis development in Egypt.
Citystars is made up of a 150,000 m2 retail and leisure complex, 70,000 m2 of purpose-built office space, 266 premium residential units, a 20,000 m2 international exhibition center and three world-class hotels. All have the latest IP communications services thanks to Cisco AVVID.
Similarly advanced technologies power another of the region's major IT developments. Dubai Internet City, the first complete information technology and telecommunications center in the world that has been built inside a free trade zone, uses Cisco equipment to deliver next-generation Metro Ethernet-based broadband connectivity, with speeds from 10 Mbps up to gigabit Ethernet, for managed voice, video and data services to business and residential customers.
Yasser Elkady, Cisco director of operations for North Africa and Levant, says: "This is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious local area network deployments in the region and we are proud to have been associated with it based on our experience in delivering converged networks."
The region has a number of notable wireless deployments besides ASEZA, too.
In Dubai, the latest addition to The Fairmount Hotel's luxury chain has opened with high-speed broadband connectivity in every bedroom, via fixed-wire Ethernet, and access to secure wireless Internet services in public meeting areas such as the lobby, cafis and conference suites.
The Kempinski Julai'a Hotel & Resort in Kuwait has rolled out a similar service, providing WLAN access across its beach, restaurant and spa areas and within 133 chalets and rooms - a combined area of 37,000 m2 - alongside dial-up and Ethernet connectivity plus interactive TV.
Finally, government agencies in the Middle East and North Africa are just as keen as commercial enterprises to embrace new technologies.
Aside from ASEZA's wireless deployment, there are a number of e-government initiatives - such as the project by Bahrain Telecommunications Co (Batelco) to provide next-generation business broadband connectivity using equipment from the Cisco Metro Ethernet Switching portfolio.
The initiative will allow Batelco to connect all of Bahrain's government ministries with a high-speed broadband network and help commercial institutions migrate existing wide area network connectivity to gigabit Ethernet.
One of many areas where such projects are likely to have a significant impact is in education - particularly given the widely dispersed populations of many North African and Middle Eastern countries and the fact that boys and girls have to be educated separately under some local systems.
Cisco technologies such as video conferencing are increasingly giving girls access to the same educational standards as boys, strengthening Middle Eastern and North African economies with greater skills resources whilst maintaining the cultural integrity of the region.
The Dubai Women's College (DWC) is among institutions taking the lead on this front, working with United Computer and Management Consultancy to provide advanced e-learning services using the latest in IP networking technology from Cisco.
The project has involved building a network to offer students and faculty members with high-speed fixed-line and wireless Internet access across its campuses.
The college has seen immediate benefits from the initiative, including increased Internet use for learning purposes, reduced administration costs and the ability to monitor student and lecturer performance via an intranet.
"You cannot begin talking about e-learning unless it is possible to promise high-speed Internet access and network reliability," says Dr Howard Reed, director of DWC.
"What we are seeing generally across the region is a clear desire to embrace new technologies to provide better services at lower cost - in both the public and private sectors," says Ghazi Atallah, Cisco director of operations for the Gulf Cooperation Council and emerging markets.
"The fact that many of the countries in the region have scant legacy infrastructure means that many of the implementations we are involved in are at the forefront of technology development. If you are looking for the latest network applications, this is now a good place to find them."
Jason Deign is a freelance writer based in Barcelona, Spain.