In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Mohamed Nasr, managing director and chief executive officer at Telecom Egypt, explains how the company is innovating in the digital experience and providing an attractive commercial model, delivering a new era for Telecom Egypt in the subsea cable market.
WeConnect, the new cross-connection ecosystem developed by Telecom Egypt, is enhancing the company’s service offering and adding value on top of Egypt’s geographic advantages to position it as a “go-to” destination for global digital infrastructure acceleration.
Throughout history, Egypt has been a key player in international trade and connectivity by virtue of its unique position and geographic diversity. What role does Egypt play in the international telecoms market?
Egypt has played a critical role in the international telecommunications and subsea cable markets since the 1870s. It sits at the nexus of large markets, namely Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and offers direct access to rapidly growing digital economies across the globe.
Today, Egypt has a large volume of international telecommunications traffic, 180 Tbps and growing, with the landing of 14 subsea cable systems, 10 subsea cable landing stations and 10 diverse routes crossing the country, connecting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt’s long coastlines, spanning 1,941km on the Red Sea and another 995km on the Mediterranean Sea, enable it to offer diversity and resiliency in subsea cable landing points, as well as a growing number of subsea cable system options and varied landing points. That’s a unique advantage for international network providers.
Telecom Egypt's digital infrastructure
Global players that rely on digital infrastructure need greater levels of diversity and resiliency, as well as digital hubs that have geopolitical stability and an open business ecosystem. This is why mega-industry players feel comfortable selecting Egypt as a hub for their connectivity growth.
Egypt enjoys an exceptional geographic location and features, sitting at the center of the world and overlooking both the Red and the Mediterranean seas. How does Telecom Egypt leverage these strong advantages and build on them through its projects, products and infrastructure investments?
Telecom Egypt has built on Egypt’s geographic advantages and made strategic digital infrastructure investments, enabling it as a global digital hub. When international players choose Egypt, they gain immediate access to a rich networking ecosystem that enables them to scale up efficiently and connect applications and services to reach potentially billions of users.
Egypt is not just a crossing point; it is rather a destination offering new opportunities for partners to “ land and expand” in new markets and ensure smooth, rapid and continuous growth. The perception of Egypt in the international marketplace is evolving from being seen as a network hop or transit zone to a “global digital hub. ”
Telecom Egypt connects 14 subsea cable systems, with at least 5 more going into service in the coming years, and is continuously investing in new, cutting-edge systems. Together with the diverse landing stations that are connected by terrestrial networks spanning the country, we are also developing our connectivity with neighboring countries, which adds to the diversity and resiliency of our offerings.
SUMED oil pipelines
Furthermore, Telecom Egypt has one of the most resilient crossing route networks globally, diversifying from highway routes, well-secured routes and oil pipeline crossings. Telecom Egypt managed to leverage the robust Sumed oil pipelines as some of the most secure crossings to ensure its cables run end-to-end uninterrupted. Telecom Egypt built its 200km “ICE, ” the most reliable, shortest and fastest trans-Egypt route by far. It runs through the terrestrial route on the west bank of the highly-secured Suez Canal campus to Port Said. ICE is part of the Red2Med system, a crossing solution comprising three segments, which are detached from the conventional public roads. The first segment starts south of the Red Sea, linking Ras Ghareb, Zafarana and Suez; the second segment is ICE, running from the Suez Canal to Port Said; and finally, the third segment that connects to the planned Mediterranean subsea festoon cable.
ICE: The terrestrial route on the west bank of the highly-secured Suez Canal campus
When partners connect with Telecom Egypt and all it has to offer, they gain access to an array of digital infrastructure solutions, all in a single market. There is growing recognition of the role Egypt and, in turn, Telecom Egypt can play in new international connectivity strategies. That creates new opportunities for our business and supports the growth of Egypt as a key hub for international infrastructure connectivity and the global digital economy.
Telecom Egypt is a renowned industry leader in the telecommunications field. What kind of strategic investments, initiatives or projects is Telecom Egypt developing to serve growing demand in the international market and maintain its leading position?
We have launched WeConnect, a cross-connection ecosystem by Telecom Egypt backed by a digital platform, to accelerate how subsea cable systems are interconnected and simplify how our partners procure, manage and scale their digital infrastructure. It offers a simple, reliable and seamless solution to the procurement of cross-connection services between any of the cable landing stations, whether on the Red Sea or the Mediterranean Sea. WeConnect brings simplicity, agility and transparency to the subsea cable arena and provides web-based procurement of cross-connectivity across Egypt. Users can click-to-order from landing stations to a range of subsea cable options. They can mix and match connectivity to subsea cable systems across Egypt, which gives them greater agility, adaptability, diversity and resiliency.
WeConnect offers an attractive, commercial and cost-efficient model of interconnection. Partners benefit from greater cost-efficiency as well as transparent pricing and an open, neutral and attractive commercial model. This means that our partners can log in to the WeConnect cross-connection ecosystem and re-route traffic to different systems to scale up wherever they see an opportunity, giving them control over their subsea cable connectivity via a simple interface that they can access over the internet. WeConnect enables our partners to make the utmost return from the investments they incur in their international network expansions.
Telecom Egypt is always keen to invest in new products that cater to its partners’ and international customers’ needs. How is WeConnect transforming traditional subsea cable models and accelerating users connectivity and ease of doing business? What is the impact on the procurement of global digital infrastructure?
WeConnect is not a new product; it is a concept that simplifies connectivity amongst the different subsea cable systems from different sources going to different destinations. Egypt is an intersection point between three continents and has the advantage of full landing of all subsea cables among them. WeConnect is an accelerator to leverage this natural hubbing point by providing a neutral, transparent, simple and digitalized interconnectivity ecosystem.
One of Telecom Egypt’s cable landing stations
WeConnect users have immediate visibility into their network services and can move with greater agility when connecting between Africa, Asia and Europe. WeConnect breaks silos in cable landing stations, terrestrial connectivity and subsea cable systems. It further provides an ecosystem of digital infrastructure enablement and acceleration.
To clarify the WeConnect concept, any capacity user on a subsea cable landing in Egypt in the Mediterranean Sea or Red Sea, can select from the other subsea cables landing in the other diverse cable landing stations to cross-connect with. WeConnect is a digitized ecosystem and is ready for subsea cable capacity users to orchestrate their network cross-connection. The cross-connectivity options are readily availed on the web-based portal, and users can click-to-order in a simple manner, procuring services resembling those provided by public cloud providers, moving beyond traditional models.
Using WeConnect, it becomes commercially feasible to build, change, pivot and adapt with the freedom to grow at an unmatched pace. Commercial agreements are managed through the platform, enabling users to quickly access different cable systems. Similarly, international carriers can enter new markets and move quickly to scale up connectivity and serve demand. Agility, simplicity, neutrality and adaptability are the driving factors of WeConnect that catalyze growth.
By focusing on customers’ experiences and presenting a seamless process to users, how does WeConnect change the dynamics in the subsea cable market? Why is the digital experience increasing in importance for players in international networking?
WeConnect is backed by a digitized platform, saving time and effort in the ordering process and assuring the transparency and agility of the product. The subsea cable market has seen minimal changes to how services are procured or managed over several decades, with a focus on A-to-B connectivity. WeConnect proves that it’s possible to simplify, optimize and accelerate these processes with a cross-connection ecosystem.
As Telecom Egypt invests more in subsea cable systems like 2Africa, how do you think WeConnect will support and enhance such projects? How does it align with Telecom Egypt’s growth strategy?
We are continually making strategic investments in subsea cable systems while making sure capacity cross-connection is available via WeConnect. The WeConnect ecosystem will continually evolve, with inventory, services and capabilities expanding over time. We have five subsea cable systems set to land in Egypt over the coming years, namely 2Africa, Africa-1, IEX, SEA-ME-WE-6 and Medusa cable systems, which will carry much more bandwidth than provided earlier on by other subsea cables and also add to our connectivity ecosystem, providing even greater diversity and agility.
Our investment in the 2Africa cable system is a great example of how WeConnect provides rapid access to new markets. Any player in our market can connect to Telecom Egypt, then access 2Africa and, in turn, the entire African continent, Europe, the Gulf and South Asia, as 2Africa offers direct connectivity to more than 45 locations across the three continents.
The timing of 2Africa is impeccable, as Africa accelerates digital adoption and we see traffic growing between markets and no longer just flowing east to west and west to east. 2Africa is coming into service at the right time to support the phenomenal growth regionally in Africa and around the world, with Port Said as one of our key gateways to the world. It has a large number of configurations for connecting internationally, whether that’s Europe to Egypt or Egypt to Africa and Asia.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) notes that only 39% of Africa’s population is using the internet, making it the world’s least connected continent today. This represents a significant growth opportunity as digital adoption accelerates. The WEF also estimates that Africa’s digital economy could contribute nearly $180 billion to the region’s growth by 2025, another opportunity for economic growth for the continent and the companies investing in it.
Data center development across Africa also indicates the huge potential of local digital economies, and there have been a growing number of related announcements since the first half of 2023. It is encouraging to see digital infrastructure growing and recognition of the opportunity to host data, applications and services expanding in Egypt and across the continent.
How does WeConnect enable the digital evolution within the Egyptian domestic market as well as the enterprise and consumer markets?
WeConnect will attract global internet exchange points (IXPs) to use Egypt as an anchorage for their presence, benefiting from the huge traffic peering between East, South and West. In return, this will allow the ISPs and enterprises in Egypt and the region to connect to these IXPs, creating low latency, high availability and cost effective internet accessibility.
The Internet is a globally connected “network of networks.” Telecom Egypt is proud to be a cornerstone enabling and supporting this global connected world, and WeConnect is a major driver to accelerate and achieve this.
Data centers play a crucial role in supporting the growth of digital services. How will WeConnect support the growth of Egypt’s own data center market?
There’s a growing opportunity to attract more data center investments in Egypt. ResearchandMarkets predicts $365 million over the next five years, with a compound annual growth rate of just under 17.5%. I believe investment will definitely surpass these numbers.
As the adoption and growth of WeConnect continues to ramp up, more international players will see the advantage of having content, cloud services and applications hosted in Egypt with access to billions of users from a central digital hub. We anticipate that major international data center players will develop facilities in Egypt, and we’ll also see niche players recognize the opportunity and break ground on sites in the country.
Data center operators will go wherever hyperscalers go, and with WeConnect offering agility, hyperscalers will naturally expand their presence in Egypt. Similarly, IXPs will see the advantage of having a peering ecosystem at a critical international crossroads. There are 105 million people in Egypt, which makes it an attractive market, but the exciting opportunity is to have an internet exchange point so close to so many major markets and a critical interconnection point.
RDH data center
Speaking about being a leading player in the telecommunications industry, how will WeConnect support the growth of Egypt as a digital hub and international destination?
As WeConnect’s user base grows, there are opportunities for users to transform how they approach their subsea cable planning and investments. WeConnect offers a flexible foundation and has the potential to change the role Egypt plays in international network development. As WeConnect achieves critical mass, shorter and increasingly niche cable systems can be built to connect to Egypt, knowing that onward connectivity is present and easy to access, which adds to the benefits of using WeConnect from a commercial viewpoint.
A subsea cable could be built from an underserved market to Egypt across the Mediterranean, enabling service providers in that country to gain new diversity and a growing number of options for connecting across the globe. It is just a matter of joining the WeConnect ecosystem and choosing how they want to route traffic, which is less expensive than joining a consortium or building capacity on a cable with only a few destinations. In this way, WeConnect promotes Egypt’s role in the global market and increases opportunities for different kinds of systems to be developed.
Contemplating your strategies and goals over the coming years, how will Telecom Egypt support the evolution of Egypt’s role in international connectivity in the future?
WeConnect immediately repositions Egypt as a critical digital hub between the three continents. We have the traffic volumes and digital infrastructure and are now offering digital experiences that differentiate us as a global destination, not just a point of transit. We have a growing number of connectivity options, in addition to neutrality and the ability to seamlessly deliver efficient services.
I see Egypt’s role in the international telecoms landscape growing at an exceptional pace. Telecom Egypt has done a lot of the hard work behind the scenes, and now it is time to showcase its main role to the world. I want Egypt to be seen as the “go-to” destination for connecting across global markets and Telecom Egypt as an enabler for its partners’ success. It is a new era for our business, and we are going to enhance and grow Egypt’s role on the international stage.
Looking at the world map and the number of cables that fully land in Egypt, the massive capacity transiting Egypt, and the strategic investments in the digital infrastructure, it is clear that we aren’t just talking about being a “hub. ” We are making strategic investments and developing digital experiences. You can’t just say it. You have to be it. And we are it.
Egypt, the central hub with a far-reaching subsea cables infrastructure
What are the measures adopted by Telecom Egypt to ensure it remains at the forefront of technological advancements and remains competitive in the global market?
Telecom Egypt will continually innovate and transform its operations to meet international customer needs. Launching WeConnect is not the end of our journey, but just the beginning. There are opportunities to expand our capabilities, grow our reach and replicate our model in new markets.
WeConnect kicked off its world-class digital journey, and the exciting part is seeing our partners use it, provide feedback, ask for new features, request additional capabilities and collaborate with us as it grows and evolves. We work with world-leading suppliers to deliver cutting-edge technologies and solutions to meet our partners’ growing needs.
At the same time, we recognize opportunities to expand our partnerships with data center operators, IXPs and international network providers. Across our industry, we all have capabilities that we can contribute to the overall ICT ecosystem. Together, we can build a rich fabric locally, in Egypt, that benefits the entire global industry.
This is a starting point, and we invite the global players in this disruptive technology to avail their innovation to global network providers and users by enabling WeConnect to be more digitalized in the future. We would like to reach the point of providing bandwidth on demand on the early layers of the network.
The fastest way to innovate is to collaborate, and I look forward to working with our partners to further develop WeConnect and drive agility in global connectivity.