Qatar’s internet structure brought up to speed

October 31, 2012

World Finance

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From prehistoric beginnings to delivering state-of-the-art technology, the latest stage of Qatar’s journey sees the roll out of the country’s first government-backed fiber optic network

Aiming to achieve maximum coverage across the nation within three years, Qatar’s new fiber optic network promises to empower businesses and consumers alike, while encouraging competition with a varied choice of operators to customers. With speeds that could potentially have a huge impact on people’s lives and ultimately the economy, Qatar looks set to take off in terms of enterprise and innovation with the advent of the government’s latest milestone initiative.

Long ago, Qatar was a flourishing pearl fishing center that was part of ancient trade routes stretching from the Gulf and East Africa to the Indian Ocean and beyond to Southeast Asia. Ships used weather elements as guides while the country was creating a historic economic-cultural exchange. These trade networks helped to produce the region’s trade, travel and overall cultural landscape.

The modern state of Qatar, though rooted in prehistoric times, became a sovereign Arab state relatively recently in 1971 when the economy was still based on pearl diving. However, with the discovery of its vast oil and gas reserves in the early 1940s, and their exploration and development over the last two decades, the country has emerged as the richest per capita in the world. Today, Qatar has over $25.4trn in proven hydrocarbon reserves, which will be monetized over the next 100 years, sustained for short-term growth and development.

Beyond this, the government is committed to creating a dynamic and competitive post-carbon economy through diversification with the reinvestment of Qatar’s significant energy wealth. This economic transformation is being achieved through the prudent management of its vast hydrocarbon reserves in order to turn its carbon capital into human capital. The idea is to realize this through education and skills training and by encouraging enterprise and the private sector to flourish.

A rite of passage
Qatar is currently focusing on the diversification and expansion of its economy beyond its hydrocarbons sector. The development of a knowledge-based economy is one of the pillars of the government’s National Vision 2030. Broadly speaking, the emphasis is on human, social, economic and environmental development – the latter to ensure there is harmony between economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

The underlying key to Qatar’s future development, though, is its Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and the exchange of knowledge through digital content and network connections. To this end, the government has made a huge commitment to promote the latest technology advances in ICT and contemporary digital developments to meet business, consumers and educational needs in today’s world.

Central to this is Qatar National Broadband Network’s (Qnbn) role as a major catalyst for Qatar’s development by providing the very latest technology platforms to help achieve a knowledge-based sustainable economy in line with the Qatar 2030 Vision. Its fiber optic broadband network will prove a prime driver for the new economy, encouraging innovation to empower people, business and society and advance a knowledge-exchange based environment.

A thriving economy already, Qatar is expected to be one of the largest in the region by 2015. Backed by a visionary government, the Qnbn initiative will accelerate the roll-out of a nationwide, open and accessible high-speed broadband network. The network is destined to have far-reaching effects on this small but highly significant Gulf nation.

Having arguably the world’s highest GDP per capita, Qatar’s new National Broadband Network is earmarked to be a major milestone in the country’s history. With vast budgets planned for key infrastructure projects such as a new port with a cruise ship dock, a new international airport and a new railway network linking to a new metro, Qatar looks set for real sustainable growth in the near future. This is in addition to the 12 football stadiums being readied for the Fifa World Cup which will take place in the country in 2022. The new fiber optic broadband network will figure largely in this growth as the engine to propel the country forward.

A veteran of the telecoms industry, Qnbn’s CEO, Mohamad Al Mannai, confirmed:  “With our vision to be one of the major factor behind Qatar’s future success, Qnbn is set to provide the latest technological platforms to help achieve the country’s long-term vision. This will have a transformational effect on all who live and work in Qatar. Fiber will play a role in transforming the responsiveness of e-government and business, improving healthcare services and boosting educational development through e-learning facilities.”

Laying it on the line
Qnbn was established with a mandate to develop the telecoms and fiber optic broadband industry under the auspices of ictQATAR, the country’s Supreme Council of Information & Communication Technology. Qnbn will be a major contributor towards Qatar’s prospects, helping it achieve a knowledge-based sustainable economy in line with Qatar’s 2030 vision. Qatar’s next-generation fiber optics network will offer high-speed internet broadband, bringing not only community and enterprise benefits, but also cost savings, increased competitiveness and improved sustainability. Indeed, recent research shows that doubling the broadband speed increases an economy’s GDP by no less than 0.3 percent.

Serving the wider digitization agenda of the country, Qnbn has taken a collaborative approach to the market, offering a choice of several operators to consumers. Qnbn’s main focus is to deploy network infrastructure, providing equal and open access to several operators. In this way, it will efficiently leverage existing as well as new infrastructure in Qatar, translating into a better deal for consumers in a more competitive market.

Qnbn’s vision is essentially to become the major catalyst of the country’s development and its mission is to realize 95 percent coverage of high-speed fiber optics broadband (100+ Mbps) across Qatar. Al Mannai explains: “Qnbn was created as a result of the country’s ICT Strategy 2015, which has as its goal to create an innovative and vibrant ICT sector to achieve the country’s digital agenda. This acknowledges how ICT underpins sustaining economic prosperity and promotes human and social development to preserve the environment for future generations.”

Advanced ICT is seen as crucial to an innovative, diversified economy and maintaining a high standard of living for all of Qatar’s people. Therefore, Qnbn’s focus will be to develop the best broadband infrastructure possible; to equip government, businesses and key vertical sectors across the economy such as education and healthcare with a world-class ICT infrastructure.  Al Mannai continues:  “Qnbn is thus a central pillar in the Qatar ICT Strategy 2015, building a sustainable digital future, improving connectivity, boosting capacity and fostering economic development, while enhancing public service delivery and advancing societal benefits for all.”

Entering the digital age
As a key technology for a small nation with a dynamic economy, fiber optics will change people’s lives in Qatar. It will improve their quality of life, the responsiveness of government and business, and be part of the ongoing transformation of Qatar’s ICT landscape. Qatar’s national agency for applied research and the delivery of commercialized technologies in ICT, energy, environment and health, is the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), which has already established Qatar’s reputation for advancing technology.

Its aim to grow Qatar’s post-carbon economy has been realized by providing the facilities needed for technology companies around the world to launch their technology businesses in Qatar.

Similarly, Qnbn’s fiber network will encourage digital inclusion and ICT human capital development. It will do this by supporting innovation and entrepreneurship through fresh new digital content and second-generation i-services.  Naturally this involves developing human capital across the board with an ecosystem that enables creative ideas to flourish in a digital world. It will also provide the spur to modernize the legal and regulatory framework, enhancing cyber safety and security.

Having recently received its 25-year license to provide Qatar with fiber optic broadband, Qnbn has been officially endorsed as the infrastructure provider for the country, allowing it to offer wholesale broadband infrastructure services to licensed network providers.

Collaborating with operators, Qnbn has signed agreements that define the framework for these parties to work together in a bid to promote competition that will benefit end-users.

These agreements realize the government of Qatar’s goal to provide high-speed broadband services to households, businesses and government within the next few years. Qnbn will also lease its passive fiber infrastructure to telecom services and set appropriate national price points for operators.

Because fiber optics can enable radical new multimedia communications through huge film, image and sound downloads at the fastest of speeds, it is set to make Qatar one of the most advanced and best connected country in the Gulf Corporation Council – and arguably one of the most connected in the world.

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