News Analysis: Egypt aims for subsea cable hub with "digital Suez Canal"

2021-11-04 16:56:00 GMT2021-11-05 00:56:00(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Marwa Yahya

CAIRO, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- Egypt is striving to become a hub for subsea cables transmitting internet data from Asia and Africa to Europe, which could be "a second Suez Canal" in terms of digital technology in the future, according to communication and information technology (IT) experts.

Egyptian Communications and Information Technology Minister Amr Talaat said that currently 13 international internet cables now transit through the country, and another five are under installment.

The cables are responsible for more than 90 percent of the data traffic in Asia and Europe, the minister said, adding that state-owned Telecom Egypt (TE), the sole operator of terrestrial connections across Egypt for subsea internet cables, will launch Hybrid African Ring Path (HARP), a new subsea system outlining Africa.

The HARP aimed to provide coastal and landlocked African countries with high-speed affordable internet, according to Talaat.

"The subsea cables obviously contributed to establishing strong data substructure across Egypt and improving the average internet speed by 14 times," said Kareem Ghonem, chairman of technology and digital economy branch with Cairo Trade Chamber.

Egypt makes a profit from these cables by collecting traffic fees, Ghonem explained.

TE made over 2.9 billion pounds (nearly 18 million U.S. dollars) in revenues from these transit fees in 2019, up by 17.4 percent year on year, while the growth rate in 2008 was only 6.6 percent, according to the company statistics.

The expert said the transit of the international cables means "Egypt has another new Suez Canal but digital."

The Suez Canal is a main artery for the global seaborne trade, bearing about 10 percent of the total trade movement, according to Egypt's ministry of planning and economic development statement.

Ghonem believes that Egypt is entitled to be an ideal node for global subsea internet lines with its unique geographical position linking Europe with Asia.

Also, Egypt has a special location in Africa and could be a basic supply station for internet, data exchange and communication on the continent, he added.

Waleed Gad, chairman of the IT industry chamber in Cairo, agreed that international internet cables will enhance Egypt's world role in the field of communication and data exchange.

Egypt is one of the attractive sites for the international communication companies that build subsea cables passing from Asia through the Suez Canal to Europe, Gad added.

He pointed out that subsea cable operators seek to have diverse routes to ensure more network resiliency, with competitive prices which Egypt could provide.

Egypt constantly improves its services and technology to maintain the competing advantages, which includes strong substructure, as well as cheaper labor and energy, he said.

According to the Egyptian information technology ministry, fiber optic cables crossing Egypt secure international data transmission via a 4,000-square-km network.

The number of international subsea cables stations in Egypt was increased from four to six in 2021, the ministry added.

Meanwhile, Gad believes that Egypt hasn't achieved the expected benefit of the cables crossing its lands.

"We don't fully utilize our bandwidth quota from those cables," he said, arguing that the country's domestic infrastructure is not able to handle the added capacity of the transmitted internet.

He stressed more investment shall be pumped into the telecommunication infrastructure sector.

Some local studies estimated that Egypt needs to invest nearly 8 billion dollars to expand the use of fiber optic cables so as to improve the internet speed. Enditem