Better value internet link on the way to Emirates

Consumers in the UAE are set to benefit from more competitive broadband packages as several undersea internet cables go online later this year.

Alcatel-Lucent contractors lay the East African Marine Cable (TEAMS) fibre optic cable on the Fujairah shore-end, April 10, 2009. Foreign navies have agreed to protect a vessel installing an undersea high-speed Internet cable from pirates off the coast of Somalia, a Kenyan minister said on April 16, 2009. Sea gangs from lawless Somalia have been increasingly striking the Indian Ocean shipping lanes and strategic Gulf of Aden, capturing dozens of vessels and hundreds of hostages in attacks that have driven up insurance rates. Picture taken April 10, 2009. REUTERS/Gina Din Corporate Communications/Japheth Kagondu/Handout (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES CONFLICT SOCIETY BUSINESS) QUALITY FROM SOURCE.  FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS *** Local Caption ***  AFR10_SOMALIA-PIRAC_0416_11.JPG
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More competitive broadband packages are expected to become available in the UAE as several undersea internet cables come online this year.

Ringing the changes:Discover what the UAE telecoms have planned

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Fees charged by Etisalat and du, the country's telecommunications operators, are relatively high compared with costs in many developed markets.

But improvements in the infrastructure connecting UAE internet users with the rest of the world are forecast to herald better value.

At present, eight internet cables serve the UAE and wider area, but others are expected to come online this year.

Ciena, a networking company specialising in undersea internet connections, says there is no spare capacity on the current cables connecting the UAE.

"The demand for bandwidth from the UAE exceeds the supply," said Ed McCormack, the vice president and general manager of international accounts and submarine systems at Ciena.

Mr McCormack, who is based in Abu Dhabi, said that as many as five internet cables are due to be activated this year to serve the UAE.

This is likely to result in internet users in the Emirates receiving faster connections at the same cost, he said.

The additional cables would also reduce the risk of disruption to internet services because of damage to undersea cables, he added.

"We see new cables currently being commissioned which will be in service in the first half of this year," Mr McCormack said. "That's going to provide a surplus of capacity, and it's likely to reflect in two things for the consumer. One is getting more for your money, and number two it's going to significantly reduce the risk of outage through cable breaks."

Work on one new undersea internet cable was completed last month.

The US$455 million (Dh1.67 billion) Gulf Bridge International (GBI) undersea cable links India to Italy via the Gulf and Egypt. Testing of the cable - which connects with the UAE in Fujairah - began last month.

The telecoms operator du has an option to use capacity on the GBI cable, which could also be used by operators such as the Saudi Telecom Company and Vodafone Qatar. There have been several instances of damage to undersea internet cables in which UAE internet users were affected, notably in early 2008.

Mr McCormack said UAE internet services are now more resistant to such disruption.

"My view is that it has got better. The event four years ago actually put the whole thing into focus. It created a national issue," he said.

Analysts say there is more global demand for undersea internet cables than cable manufacturers can currently meet.

Keith Schofield, a managing partner at Pioneer Consulting, based in the UK, said surging data traffic was behind this.

"Traffic is growing 50 per cent year on year. We expect [that] to continue," he said. "There's a lot of cable going in around the globe at the moment. Every 10 years we're building to the moon and back."

However, the internet cables connecting the UAE are operating at full capacity, Mr Schofield said.

"At the moment there isn't enough [capacity]," he said. "You'll see demand being met. This new capacity is shortly coming online."

Mr Schofield forecasts there will be a global "unconstrained demand" of an additional 117,600km of submarine cables this year.

However, the maximum of new cables that can be manufactured globally is 65,000km, he said.

Ciena does not build internet cables but supplies technology to upgrade existing lines so they can handle more data.

Mr McCormack said Ciena was working on an upgrade to an existing submarine cable serving the UAE.

"We see more capacity going on to existing cables," he said.

The cable, known as the South-East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 4, links Singapore with Marseille in France, and also connects with the UAE at Fujairah.

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