Casting a net across the Middle East

The internet is an incredible resource for growth and innovation; it sparks creativity and connects people across the world, whilst supporting the global economy says Paul Rendek, director of External Relations, RIPE NCC

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Casting a net across the Middle East Paul Rendek from RIPE NCC says that capacity is one of the most important internet issues in the Middle East.
By  Paul Rendek Published  March 8, 2013

The internet is an incredible resource for growth and innovation; it sparks creativity and connects people across the world, whilst supporting the global economy says Paul Rendek, director of External Relations, RIPE NCC.

This year, the internet celebrates its 30th anniversary. Over three decades, the internet has grown to a scale which was hard to imagine in the early days. But as with any technology, the internet is at different stages of maturity in different countries around the world. The US and Western Europe enjoy significant user penetration and considerable support from the public and private sectors, with internet even reaching into some everyday household appliances.

Other parts of the globe are catching up quickly – learning from the experiences of other regions, these younger industries are able to skip incremental technology advances, such as the evolution from dial-up infrastructure, to broadband, to fibre broadband and WiFi.

The growth and development of the internet is dependent on dozens of factors, and these are often region-specific. For the Middle East, one of the important issues is capacity, a broad term that includes physical infrastructure, computing hardware, software, and human capacity. Building this capacity will be fundamental to ensuring the kind of growth required to bring new regions and users online, while managing the huge amount of data traffic generated by applications such as streaming video. With the fast pace of technology development, building internet capacity is essential to safeguard the future of the internet, and foster local and international innovation.

A look at the Internet in the Middle East

The IMF predicts that in 2013, the Middle East will continue to experience economic growth at a rate of 3.7%. But it’s not just enjoying growth through economics – the Burj Khalifa is an example of the sheer scale and ambition of industry in the Middle East, and the ambitions of the internet industry are no less grand, with the sector developing rapidly, and attracting investment and users.

Internet infrastructure and development in the region is a completely different landscape compared to two years ago. For example, the number of RIPE NCC members (also known as Local Internet Registries, or LIRs) based in the region grew nearly 20% in just the last 12 months. A broad commitment to building the internet has helped to decrease the cost of development through economies of scale. Previously it simply wasn’t a financially viable effort for stakeholders to build internet infrastructure, but this is changing, and better, more widely deployed infrastructure has resulted in better access for businesses and ordinary citizens, and increasing revenues for internet-related industries.

Infrastructure capacity is developing rapidly, with new Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) in the UAE and Palestine. These IXPs are of benefit to all parties when utilised properly for peering, and help to reduce overall costs for ISPs, as well as improving latency and bandwidth issues for end users. On the international stage there has been a lot of discussion and recognition of the importance of building local peering relationships, and the recent first meeting of the Arab Internet Governance Forum featured the issue prominently in its agenda.

It’s also important to recognise how the Middle East is taking steps to develop the internet through the sharing of knowledge and experience, and actively engaging in multi-stakeholder internet governance processes. In 2012, the success of the first Arab IGF, a region-specific event held in Kuwait demonstrated the high level of interest from a range of regional stakeholders in internet governance issues.

The Internet Society hosted its first INET Conference recently in Qatar. The demand and support for both of these events underlines how much the region’s internet community has grown and is how quickly it is maturing.

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