With the leadership of Eng. Eyad Abu Khorma and his extensive international experience in the technology and telecommunications industry, a new digital hub is underway. The Aqaba Digital Hub is set to benefit not only Jordan, but also all the Middle East region, profiting from the presence of big CDNs, international operators, new submarine cables, and OTTs coming to the region.
Aqaba Digital Hub will complement the ongoing mega projects happening near Jordan and will solve major issues related to connectivity and colocation facilities in the Middle East: the first is the Intranet connectivity between Middle Eastern countries (high prices and unavailability of networks); and the second is the lack of real neutral telecom hubs with fully open access policy in the region.
In an exclusive interview to Telecom Review, Abu Khorma elaborates more on how Aqaba will resolve these two issues in order to allow people to collocate and cross-connect, similarly to the best practices in the European markets.
The “Aqaba Digital Hub” project has seen the light not so long ago. Can you tell us more about the main objectives of this project, how was it conceived, and what region will it benefit?
The “Aqaba Digital Hub” plan was conceived after over 25 years of working in all aspects of the telecom industry in the MENA region. With the experience we gained in the industry, we were able to identify what I like to call the 3 W’s: What, Where, and When.
For that, Aqaba Digital Hub came with a set of projects which include hyperscale datacenters, internet exchange point, cable landing station, teleports, and other, in a bid to provide to Middle Eastern countries the much needed neutral setup with an open access policy.
But why Aqaba in particular? For those eager to know the answer, Aqaba showcases a very strategic location. Being on the crossroad of three continents, the city is positioned to be the proper access and proper international gateway to Jordan and Middle Eastern countries.
In addition, we plan that all platforms we will host in the future, like the VSAT among others, will be made available in one location, a model of a one-stop-shop for all these facilities, governed by open and neutral access.
NaiTel, Aqaba Digital Hub’s telecom arm, acquired the first-ever internet exchange license in Jordan. Why you were keen to acquire this license and what were the opportunities that it has unlocked?
Having a neutral internet exchange point in Aqaba will add value to the overall plan and project we’re developing in this city.
In Jordan, around three years ago, we lacked a regulatory framework to operate the activities of internet exchanges and it is not until recently that regulators in Jordan released new regulatory framework and licenses.
AqabaIX is another milestone we are adding to the Aqaba Digital Hub in order to enable its users to enjoy direct peering with existing OTTs, operators and neighboring operators, CDNs, and gaming centers all in one location.
Can you tell us more about the 35D Datacenter? Is it another part of Aqaba Digital Hub?
In order to be able to show the value of Aqaba as a location, we’ve started with the concept of promoting the availability of datacenters in Aqaba.
35D is our existing, first, and only carrier-neutral Uptime Tier-3 certified data center in Aqaba and the first data center outside the capital city of Amman. It was built to serve both the market demand for colocation and disaster recovery sites, and the current needs of Aqaba Digital Hub projects, namely hosting Naitel’s fiber infrastructure, establishing the Aqaba internet exchange, and welcoming international businesses looking to host and collocate immediately in Aqaba.
Indeed, the existing datacenter translates most of the objectives and strategies we are building for Aqaba Digital Hub. However, the 35D is just a small scale of the bigger data center we are currently developing over 30000 SQM land in Aqaba.
What will the new submarine cable announced by Google and Sparkle add to the country’s connectivity?
Aqaba Digital Hub will form the landing facility of the new Raman project, part of the Blue-Raman submarine cable announced by Google and Sparkle, and will provide cable landing station services, colocation services, and fiber connectivity between Europe and Asia. It is noteworthy that it will feature 16 fiber pairs and it is planned to be operational in 2024.
This new cable comes to add value to the country’s connectivity seeing that Jordan had only one old cable in service. It puts as well the country on the international connectivity map and adds huge capacity for both telecom and technology sectors in Jordan.
With all the efforts you’re deploying, where do you see your business going in 5 years?
Over 7 years ago, when we used to share our thoughts and plans among people around us, some of them used to not take us seriously and others thought it was impossible to achieve. Yet, we carried on with our plans, and today we are proud that we successfully completed the first phase of the project despite the region’s instability and all the challenges that covid-19 brought to us. Therefore, we are now more confident than ever that we are on the right track in building Aqaba Digital Hub and becoming the gateway for the Middle East, translating the real meaning of a neutral facility and open access policy, platform and network.
Who will be your partners in the development of Aqaba Digital Hub and how were you able to overcome any obstacle that came along the way?
We are in discussion with some potential partners; however, the doors are always open to welcome every technology partner and anyone who can contribute and add value to this project in order to build a real neutral facility in the Middle East.
Today, we’re working on cooperating with all operators within the Middle East as the objective from Aqaba Digital Hub is to complement what already exists in the market, cooperate with operators and add value to Jordan and all the neighboring markets.
In our journey, it is likely to face some obstacles as it is natural to any entrepreneur. However, we never lose faith and always find a way to redirect our projects to the right path and make them happen. The key is a good cooperation and transparent communication with everybody.