ABU DHABI // Faster, and possibly cheaper, internet could be in store for residents following the expected completion of a number of regional submarine telecommunication cable projects this year.
“From the end-users perspective, which is through your mobile, you will have a faster speed,” said Omar Jassim bin Kalban, managing director and chief executive of E-marine, a Dubai-based submarine cable and installation company.
“It would also give a chance to the operators to consider a revision of the price, however, it’s up to them.”
The extra bandwidth could provide UAE internet providers lower per unit data costs, which they could then transfer on to consumers.
The infrastructure upgrade currently in the works could also help handle a predicted rise in data usage coming from consumers using data heavy applications such as movie streaming and, further down the road, as 5G mobile networks are developed and deployed.
Residents have previously complained about internet pricing and not being able to reach the highest available speeds. Twitter users also voiced concern over the video quality of streaming services.
The cables will increase the amount of data flowing in and out of the UAE and create “better connectivity between the regional countries and to the outside world”, said Mr bin Kalban.
E-marine – a wholly owned subsidiary of Etisalat – is involved in many of the projects, including a 20,000-kilometre cable system under construction that stretches from Singapore to France called “Sea-Me-We 5” that includes a UAE connection.
“In the UAE this year, I expect they will land four international submarine cables, stretching all the way from Europe and the Far East,” he said. “Etisalat and du, are putting in huge investments to land more and more cables.”
In the next 10 years, bandwidth capacity will be four times the current capacity, he said.
Nearly all the internet data that travels across the world's oceans is transmitted through submarine cables rather than satellite communication systems.
Cables are specially constructed to withstand the harsh environment on the sea floor, including the pressure of having kilometres of water above them.
But they are also susceptible to natural disasters – several were affected by the 2011 earthquake in Japan. They can also be the focus of sabotage. In 2003, Egypt’s navy captured three scuba divers trying to cut an undersea internet cable in the Mediterranean.
In January, du notified customers about multiple submarine cuts to a cable in the Red Sea off the coast of Egypt, of which E-marine played a role in fixing. The cause was never revealed.
Mr bin Kalban said the UAE’s infrastructure is set up to mitigate any potential disruption.
“In case of damage, you will never have 100 per cent failure as there is a diversity in routing which will guarantee that most of the traffic is maintained at the same quality of service.”
E-marine is the host of this week’s SubOptic 2016 conference – an event for the submarine cable industry.
UAE is the perfect location for internet hub
While it is often called cyberspace, the internet is, for the most part, a physically connected system.
While some remote areas of the globe require satellites for internet, much of the world gets their service from cables installed deep on the seabed floor that contain the optical fibres which transmit the data.
The strategic geographic position that played a role in the UAE’s economic development long before the internet became part of everyday life will see it become a regional data hub.
The country is also home to E-Marine – a company that claims to have become “one of the market leaders in submarine cable installation, maintenance and repair services”.
With a fleet of four specially equipped ships and 12-tonne robots that can operate in waters as deep 2,500 metres, the company handles the bulk of installation and cable maintenance in the region.
The ships and robots, with complex propulsion systems, can even work in rough sea conditions.
A number of projects are underway to increase connectivity in the UAE, which could potentially provide benefits for residents and the business community.
“They look at submarine cables as an integral part of a country’s infrastructure,” said Omar bin Kalban, E-marine’s managing director and chief executive.
“They are important to attract foreign investment, tourism, and education.”
He said that the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) was also studying plans to further increase bandwidth.
The TRA, he said, was taking measures to ensure infrastructure was in place for an expected surge of data out of the UAE, as a number of global firms are eyeing the UAE as their “regional hub” for data traffic.