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Telecom Review sat down for an exclusive interview with Cengiz Oztelcan, CEO at GBI to learn more about the company’s role during the FIFA World Cup 2022 and how its multilayer terrestrial and subsea cable meshed network bridges the East to the West, ensuring uninterrupted connectivity to end users.

The telecommunications scene has witnessed many changes and transformations over the years. What would you say is the most significant change that has happened and what impact has it been having?

One of the major changes we’ve witnessed is the desire for ubiquitous uninterrupted connectivity from end users, SMEs, large enterprises, and businesses. Telecom providers are consequently racing to fulfil this demand in the most seamless and efficient way. There is an unprecedented global demand for data, and this is where players like GBI come in.

As one of the independent submarine cable operators, GBI’s role is critical to global communications. With over 95% of internet traffic going through submarine cables, we are an integral part of the internet and ensure millions of connections every day.

What’s more, now end users are not only asking for always-on connectivity but are also in pursuit of higher speeds and more bandwidth. This has resulted in OTT providers bolstering overall connectivity, particularly in the Gulf region, to support this growth and guarantee sustained quality for users.

It has led to the growing need for collaboration between cable providers and OTTs, and GBI’s unique position as the only Gulf-based neutral carrier means it offers direct remote peering across the region. Recently partnering with a world-recognised OTT provider, which is the founder and owner of some of the planet’s most popular social media applications, Vodafone Qatar, and MEEZA – to name a few - our central platform node allows networks to connect and exchange traffic seamlessly.

How is GBI ensuring seamless connectivity to end users?

As a critical infrastructure player, we always strive to provide consistent services. The submarine cable industry is complex, and any sudden changes or mismanagement can have detrimental consequences on end users and lead to a loss of connectivity which is unthinkable in today’s society.  

That is why we ensure that our services are always protected, and our networks are resilient. GBI’s Capacity Protection Programme (CPP) aims to provide better protection to GBI customers and partners by holding GBI accountable, allowing it to address faults before they arise. In the same way a football coach continuously analyses and adapts the team for match day, GBI is continually investing in its network to put its best foot forward for global connectivity, partners and customers.

What are the challenges that telecom providers face nowadays?

The main challenge facing telecom providers is meeting growing user demands. There is a clear need for investment from a multitude of players to support the current ecosystem. We are seeing burgeoning investment in the establishment of datacenters and high-quality cables to guarantee sustained speed and quality, but this needs to remain at a rapid pace – which can be a challenge.

For critical infrastructure players like GBI, the planning element can be incredibly challenging. Our industry sees heavy investments and long lead times, notably amid the current chip shortage and other constraints, so telecom providers must always be one step ahead. It is crucial that we make the right forecasts of what’s in the pipeline in both the short and long term.

Indeed, with 5G, digitalization and edge computing emerging, cybersecurity is also a major challenge.  Users demand secure, always-on, fast connectivity, so we must coordinate with other key players to protect data globally.

Qatar is hosting one of the most important sports events in the world – the FIFA World Cup. How would you evaluate Qatar’s readiness in terms of ensuring connectivity and providing the required capacity? How will GBI support the FIFA World Cup?

Qatar is ready for the FIFA World Cup. The event is a unique opportunity for the region to shine as it is the first to be held in the Middle East, and to be held outside the summer slot. The success of the event depends on successful partnerships, on and off the pitch. That’s why – in tandem with being a key driver in the Middle East’s digital transformation journey and supporting regional carriers and OTTs – GBI is focused on continuing collaboration with industry peers.

Fans want to seamlessly watch matches and be able to depend on low latency, high-capacity cable networks which can handle spikes in traffic, and ensure no goals are missed. The 2018 World Cup saw a total reach of 3.87 billion, and an average of 190.5 million live match viewers per game, and we expect this to grow this year.

That’s why we’re investing to increase capacity, availability, and capabilities to guarantee an enhanced service. For example, we have recently diversified our network through a new North Route which connects the Gulf to Europe through Iraq and will now leverage a wider range of terrestrial networks established by GBI and its partners. It will help the region prepare to meet the surge in traffic anticipated around the event and is instrumental in transforming Qatar into a global connectivity hub and attractive commercial destination, for the World Cup and beyond.

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