Fibre-optic intercontinental link to cost $500 million

It is hoped the network will eventually provide a data-carrying capacity of 12.8 terabits per second and reach about two billion people.

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A group of six telecommunications companies from across the region has agreed to invest US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) in a vast fibre-optic network.

The move is designed to put an end to internet outages and to make the region's digital network more reliable.

The network, which the companies intend will open in the second quarter of next year, will begin in Fujairah and is planned to connect Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Amman in Jordan and Tartous in Syria before linking up with Istanbul in Turkey and then Europe.

The UAE's Etisalat, Saudi Arabia's Mobily, Syria Telecommunications Establishment, Orange Jordan, Mada-Zain Partnership, also in Jordan, and Turkey's Superonline said the regional cable network would have a huge capacity for data traffic and meet demand for intercontinental data and IP services in the region.

"We are building an internet highway between Fujairah and Istanbul," Sureyya Ciliv, the chief executive of Turkcell Group, which owns Superonline, said at a signing ceremony in Ankara.

"[This] project will allow internet traffic, [that] so far has struggled along a narrow pathway, to comfortably reach the speed of a multi-lane highway."

It is hoped the network will eventually provide a data-carrying capacity of 12.8 terabits per second and reach about two billion people.

Mohammad Omran, the chairman of Etisalat, said in July the network would provide extra capacity to meet expected future demand fuelled by broadband growth, multimedia applications and video.

The agreement is also in line with Zain's efforts to help boost internet penetration levels in Jordan.

"The demand for intercontinental connectivity continues to grow at a remarkable rate," said Ali Amiri, an executive vice president of Etisalat and chairman of the consortium leading the project. "The growing technical literacy of the local population and availability of rich local content are all driving the demand for ever more capacity," he added.

Analysts said the internet outages that had afflicted the Middle East and India in recent years, thought to be the result of damage caused by passing ships to submarine cable systems, could become a thing of the past.

"The idea is to provide multiple routes so that if one route is broken the traffic isn't stopped," said Badii Kechiche, a telecoms analyst at Pyramid Research in London.

Irfan Ellam, a telecoms analyst with Al Mal Capital, said the cable network would not necessarily herald faster internet speeds but it would make web connections in the region more reliable.

"In the past, you had cable cuts off the coast of Egypt, which caused the internet to slow down in the UAE. The more connections the UAE has, the better [because] they can route the traffic through other cables."

* with additional reporting by Farah Halime