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Internet, Happy Birthday from the Middle East

Internet, Happy Birthday from the Middle East

30 years ago, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) came into the office on a cold Virginia morning, finished their coffees, and set about a seemingly simple task: switch on the internet. With a few keystrokes, a series of independent academic networks joined together to form the foundation of what today backs a nearly two trillion dollar industry fundamentally reshaping how human beings communicate.

The internet was a first step towards what we know as the World Wide Web, the software protocol governing the online world and influencing how we do business, learn, socialize and find entertainment. In recent years, there is perhaps no region that has grown to interact with this web more than the Middle East.  Whether it is empowering our schools with the latest learning tools, linking our hospitals directly with the global medical community, or the increasing permeation of smart phones and tablets, the Middle East’s demand for internet capacity has doubled every year for the past five years. This tremendous pace beats out just about every region on the face of the Earth.

Driving this remarkable growth is the development of the region’s knowledge economy. As information increasingly becomes the valued commodity, fiber optic networks are replacing highways and shipping lanes as the core arteries over which goods are exchanged.   On a consumer level, high capacity activities like video sharing on desk top and mobile devices are growing at an exponential rate.  YouTube, for example, sees a staggering 6 million unique daily visitors from across the Middle East, up from only a half million in 2009.

Beyond the individual, broadband connectivity is playing an increasing role in underpinning broader societal progress. This is particularly evident in medicine, where doctors in the Middle East can work in real time with doctors from Canada, the US or China. If you go to the hospital to have a tissue sample, there is a very real chance the information from that sample will wind up being analyzed by a lab half way around the world – giving you access to the world’s leading medical minds without traveling more than a few blocks.

As the CEO of Gulf Bridge International (GBI), operator of the region’s highest capacity fiber optic network, and the first network connecting all the nations of the Gulf onwards to the data centers of Europe and Asia, I need only look at the traffic being directed over our network to grasp the sheer enormity of this knowledge exchange. Our cable alone possesses the capacity to transfer information at a rate equivalent to 7,000 full length movies per second.

The natural question one may ask on the internet’s 30th anniversary is, of course, what will the next 30 years hold? Ask a technology enthusiast and they will lend any number of popular responses. The ‘Internet of Things’ is one prominent example, where objects we use on a daily basis will soon become advanced enough to autonomously interact. Think of your refrigerator ordering a new liter of milk when it runs low. Other predicted trends include wearable smart gadgets, like Google’s upcoming Glass, which bring connectivity to an ever more ubiquitous and deeply permeated level.

While relevant, I believe these examples just miss the point. In the next 30 years, the internet will see one simple and overriding trend: more. Currently, less than 40% of the world’s population has access to the internet. As new technologies and increasingly far-reaching cable networks connect new regions, and the culture of technology permeates new populations, it is no stretch to imagine connectivity for 80-90% of the world. In terms of the broader impact on humanity, there is no more exciting potential future for the World Wide Web.

This is a trend I have personally experienced when GBI landed the first ever subsea cable in Iraq, bringing connectivity to a nation which had previously had very limited internet access. As connectively permeates, the population becomes increasingly aware and interactive. This interactive culture drives internet demand in an ongoing cycle of connectivity growth beneficial to many aspects of society.

So, from a region with a growing hunger for connectivity rivaling any on Earth, and with an expanding infrastructure and central location empowering us to take a leadership role over the next 30 years; “Internet, Happy Birthday from the Middle East!”


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