Wasim Alnahlawi - stock.adobe.co

MENA looks ahead to networking drive   

The networking industry has been traditionally defined by generational advances in technology first deployed in markets such as North America, Europe and Asia Pacific – and before too long, the Middle East and North Africa region will be joining this club

Last year saw firms increasingly phase out multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) infrastructures, leading to the continued adoption of software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN), along with the commensurate rise of its next evolutionary step, secure access service edge (SASE).

Another key trend of 2023 was the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) into networking services, including not only collaboration and contact centre environments to boost user and customer experiences, but also to act as an essential assistant in assessing networking management and observability.

Yet there was another important geographic trend in 2023, namely the increasing importance of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in networking. And this shift is set to gain more momentum in 2024 as the region’s major economies slug it out to gain technology leadership over the remainder of the decade.

The transition first gained traction over the course of the pandemic, with a hybrid workforce changing how modern IT and networking leaders ensure their business can cope by shifting to cloud services based on distributed, centralised management. And perhaps there was no region which better exemplified this trend than in the major MENA countries, notably the United Arab Emirates, where massive, accelerated investment in state-of-the-art networking infrastructures had come to the fore and was demonstrated clearly at the reconvened Gitex Global show in 2021.

The event at the Dubai World Trade Centre was a show of strength of how network technology had evolved. It displayed how the way enterprises changed in the wake of remote work, wanting specific expertise in building better experiences, leading to every business needing to orchestrate memorable moments that shape customer and employee engagement, satisfaction and loyalty.

Fast forward to 2023 and the 43rd edition of Gitex Global, centred at the World Trade Centre and breakout Expand North Star at Dubai Harbour, hosted more than 6,000 exhibitors for a combined total of 41 halls spanning 2.7 million ft2 of exhibition space, a 40% growth year on year (YoY), with 1,800 startups across both shows.

Comms technology and services firm Avaya unveiled a Generative CX concept showing how artificial intelligence can sit at the core of experience transformation. The plan will see the generative AI (GenAI) technology and capabilities integrated within the core Avaya Experience Platform (AXP) to help CX practitioners implement workflows and glean precise, actionable insights with the stroke of a keyboard.

Avaya said that its customers were looking to bring AI into their contact centres on a large scale, and in a way that brings AI to the core of their CX transformation. The launch was aimed at demonstrating how AI can also be extended to the heart of contact centres, creating workflows, reports and helping agents better serve customers.

As it was explaining the concept, the firm announced a number of key customer wins with global oil and lubricants company Motul, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, and renowned doctor Magdi Yacoub’s Heart Foundation. Weeks later, it announced a contract with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA).

Another company keen to show off its MENA proposition at Gitex was comms giant Huawei. Explaining the range of opportunities that his firm saw in the locality, Alaa Elshimy, managing director and senior vice-president of Huawei’s enterprise business group in the Middle East and Central Asian region, said that the company’s presence was in line with its vision for a fully connected world and that it would work closely with MENA customers to make their experience unique.

In the enterprise sector, Elshimy made particular note of storage networking, data centre cloud software, optical connectivity, 5G and LTE, and that it would build a number of vertical solutions for different industries. In mining, for example, Huawei said it was looking to make dangerous operations almost completely autonomous to reduce the number of accidents. It was able to demonstrate to the MENA region how it could run autonomous vehicles using virtual reality and remote controls to drive trucks.

Another important local application of the core technology was in smart pipelines. Such deployments are intended to prevent interruptions to oil production and supply such as leakages and losses caused by deliberate damage to facilities. Huawei can lay down fibre cable next to the pipeline – as far as thousands of kilometres and powered passively – and then use smart cameras, acoustics and machine learning technology to detect any intrusion.

Elshimy noted that the accuracy of the detection is about five metres and can be implemented across more than 50,000 kilometres of smart pipeline across the Middle East. The smart pipeline solutions complement other such smart tech deployed in MENA by governments, in smart cities and public services, education, healthcare and transportation. Sustainability was a key part of these solutions, Elshimy added, noting the energy efficient technology that it had deployed for the fabricated datacentre at Dubai airport.

Only a short flight away from the latter venue, Huawei was ramping up operations in a strategic, long-term move for the MENA region, potentially indicating where the smart money in smart tech will be heading. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 project is commonly associated with the futuristic NEOM megacity project, totally reimagining not only a city, but the country. For any of this to be realised, however, Saudi Arabia’s comms infrastructure and technological advancement has to be reimagined.

The 2023 launch of the Huawei Cloud Riyadh Region is seen by the comms tech giant as an achievement underscoring the cloud business’s “unwavering” dedication to supporting Vision 2030, aligned with the nation’s technological advancement, leadership and innovation goals.

In addition to the new Riyadh cloud region helping to promote digital-led economic growth in the country, Saudi Arabia will be Huawei Cloud’s focus in serving the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Through a 3AZ (availability zone) architecture, the new region is described as being built to provide reliable, secure and sustainable cloud services. It will offer full-stack cloud services, including infrastructure, databases, containers, big data and AI services to meet the requirements of various industries.

Orange Business also made significant steps to boost its Saudi presence, deploying its Smart City Platform to optimise user experience for citizens living and working in the prime location of the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in the city of Riyadh. It said this would result in the location’s elevation to the next level of smart city that will optimise urban operations, making them better, faster and safer. 

The KAFD deployment has seen Orange Business design, build and run a new end-to-end platform, integrating AI and data analytics into existing KAFD digital infrastructure. Orange Business is providing a range of digital master systems integration services, as well as orchestrating its partner ecosystem by working alongside company experts on systems integration for smart city systems compatible with a range of technologies.

Use cases include geolocation-based sentiment analysis of social media, analysing, collating and sharing contextual data in areas ranging from water supply to traffic situation awareness, and energy optimisation across commercial office buildings. Orange Business added that by integrating a digital twin with the Smart City Platform, architects and engineers will be able to analyse real-time data to optimise building design. 

“The increasing wave of urbanisation across the world is set to uncover a $517bn market for smart city solutions, with an annual growth rate of 25%, a fact that plays into KAFD’s objectives of building a future-proof and business-friendly hub in Riyadh,” said Gautam Sashittal, CEO of King Abdullah Financial District Development and Management Company (KAFD DMC). “A major step in that direction, our partnership with Orange Business will further strengthen our drive to become a global pioneer in smart urban development.”

And there’s a massive ambition to build in Saudi. At the same time, it would be almost impossible to assume that the UAE and the city of Dubai in particular will let its current leadership position slip without a fight.

Gitex in Dubai is only to be bigger and better in 2024 and the show is ramping up its recent expansion to Africa as well as looking at Europe in 2025.

At the end of 2023, Bahrain’s leading telco provider announced a deal to implement 400G capacity optical network technology connectivity across the country, and operator Du revealed the successful conclusion of the UAE’s first 5G-Advanced 5G reduced capability (RedCap) trial over a commercial network.

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