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Internet 'essential utility like water, power'

The world is going mobile, and the Middle East is no exception. In Saudi Arabia, there are more mobile subscriptions than people. In fact, the Saudi mobile subscription rate reached 181 percent of the population in 2012, according to a recent study by Cisco Consulting Services.


So, for many, being connected to the Internet is a necessity for communicating far and wide, chasing down information, or finding a new job, "It has become a fourth utility -- almost as ubiquitous and transparent as water, gas and electricity," Wim Elfrink, executive vice president, industry solutions and chief globalization officer, Cisco, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

"But consider that only 1 percent of the world is currently connected... leaving 99 percent of the world without ready access to information, without the ability to communicate with work and home from anywhere or to locate and purchase what they need at a fair price, to pay bills, gather opinions, readily access news and public opinion and so on," he added.

It is against this emerging scenario that Cisco, which established its presence in Saudi Arabia in 1997 and has since seen its operations in the region grow considerably, adopted its strategy is to continue to collaborate with indigenous organizations and local government to help further accelerate development in information communications technology (ICT) energy, critical national infrastructure, health care, defense and national security, and the service provider market. 

"Our products and services business are among the four largest today in Cisco's Emerging Theatre within the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Russia (EMEAR)," he said.

Detailing Cisco's current projects across the Kingdom, Elfrink said: "As of October 2013, Saudi Telecom Company ( STC ) has become the first service provider in the Middle East region to select Cisco's Carrier Routing System, Cisco CRS-X and Cisco's Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS). Once the new Cisco technology solutions are fully deployed, the enhanced STC network will provide Saudi Arabia with one of the most advanced telecommunications infrastructures in the world."

Mobily, the official brand name of Etihad Etisalat, also recently launched four managed services based on Cisco solutions. Two are managed data center services -- a managed hosted-server service and a managed back-up and recovery service, he said. The other two are a managed firewall security service and a managed business communications service.The managed services are designed to support all types of businesses in Saudi Arabia from smaller businesses to large enterprises in banking and finance, oil and gas, health care, education and petrochemicals, he said.

Mobily also unveiled the first public Cisco TelePresence Suite venue in the Kingdom. The suite is centrally located in Riyadh at the Mobily headquarters adjacent to Kingdom Tower. Mobily's Cisco TelePresence Suite will connect 32 worldwide business cities across five continents with its partner Tata Communications and other partner networks. The network reach makes Cisco TelePresence technology a truly global collaboration tool, Elfrink said.

Cisco has around 200 employees in Riyadh, Dhahran and Jeddah, a 430-plus partner ecosystem and more than 460 Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts. As the company continues to align with the country agenda, Cisco's focus is to also create more job opportunities for the growing number of Saudi nationals entering the work force. Furthermore, women make up around 20 percent of Cisco's current work force in Riyadh with the company offering a variety of flexible work options to suit varying needs and provide adequate work-life balance.

According to Elfrink, the diverse training initiatives driven by Cisco in the Kingdom today also demonstrate an ongoing commitment to developing the local ICT sector through transfer of global networking expertise and knowledge to prepare Saudi youth to address the growing demand for networking experts in the local market.For example, the Cisco Network Academy partners with educational institutions, government administrations and community-based organizations throughout the Kingdom, to deliver ICT education through in-classroom training, innovative cloud-based curriculums, and self-study learning tools, all designed to prepare students for careers in the 21st-century global economy.

The Network Academy program in Saudi Arabia currently boasts some 90 locations and 262 instructors who have, to date, educated more than 50,000 students (34 percent of whom were women) since the program's inception in 2004 and the program continues to grow. It teaches networking technology to nearly 19,000 students (42 percent of whom are women). This will help Saudi's young population to be ready to fill the networking talent gap and boost the nation's productivity.Referring to Cisco's emerging countries initiatives and globalization strategy, Elfrink said: "Because the GCC region leads with world-class networks and infrastructure capabilities and visionary leadership vision, the region is poised to expand its success and compete with other economies globally."

Today, the world is experiencing the largest economic and social shifts in history. Populations in the West -- North America, Western Europe and Japan -- are shrinking and the remaining population is approaching retirement age. 
In the Middle East, however, more than 60 percent of the population is aged below 30. This surge will require the creation of millions of new jobs and productivity will not increase significantly to absorb the burgeoning working-age population, he said.
"We are also observing other shifts: As the population in Western Europe, Russian and even China begin to age out of the work force (16-- 64) the reduction in overall productivity could result in a reduction in their economies," Elfrink said.
The economies in emerging nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Nigeria are, meanwhile, seeing hyper growth. In both economic situations, increasing productivity to increase income and overall living standards is vital, he said.
Elfrink emphasized that the Internet of Everything (IoE) is driving productivity, jobs, increased energy savings, improved education, access to better health care and a host of new citizen services while also addressing today's challenges such as a shortage of health care providers, a college educated work force and urbanization.

"By bringing together people, process, data, and things, the IoE is making everyday life for communities more relevant and valuable than ever before -- it is turning information into actions, thereby creating new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunities. Communities that are able to adapt to this market transition will have a significant advantage as they compete for business, investments and talent," he said.

With only one percent of the world connected today (which equals 13B devices connected to the network today and about 50B by 2020), connecting the unconnected has become imperative to turn data into wisdom that can be realized and acted upon, Elfrink added. 

"Thinking 'out of the box' and truly embracing technology as an agent of change so we do not become prisoners of our own experiences was clearly recognized as essential. By doing so, a connected community can be made possible and run on networked information to provide a menu of many citizen services, including health care monitoring."

Asked how the Internet of Things (IoT) would re-industrialize the Internet, Elfrink said Cisco's reputation is already well established in the technologies, standards and experience in having supported the development of the Internet. The IoT and its next incarnation, the Internet of Everything (IoE), takes this revolutionary achievement to the next level. The IoE could connect 50 billion people, processes, data and things by 2020.

The IoE is a cornerstone of Cisco's strategy and future and it is expected that $14.4 trillion of value will be "at stake" over the next decade, driven by "connecting the unconnected" (people-to-people, people-to-machines, machines-to-machines, etc.), Elfrink said.

The IoE brings together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before -- turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries, he added.
Asked to explain how Cisco's Smart + Connected Communities strategy would work, he said in February 2009, Cisco unveiled its holistic blueprint for Smart+Connected Communities (S+CC), a global initiative using the network as the platform to transform physical communities to connected communities run on networked information to enable economic, social and environmental sustainability.

"Cisco continues to evolve its vision for Smart+Connected Communities as technology and the world around us evolves. Cisco envisions that the principles of openness that have made the Internet a thriving ecosystem over the past 20 years be applied to create and grow the networked platform for connecting people with products, services and information," he said.

Together with an ecosystem of partners, Elfrink said Cisco has created a powerful, integrated platform that incorporates top technology, applications and business models to improve the way communities and cities are designed, built and run -- from lighting to waste management, from parking and traffic services to safety and security.

Giving an example, Elfrink said in March 2010 Cisco announced that it had been appointed by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) to support the provision of strategic advisory services for defining the business model and assessing the feasibility of a Smart Cities Operating Company. 
As a further milestone toward the development of Smart+Connected Communities in the Kingdom, Cisco will initially support the building infrastructure and technology-enabled value-added services to four economic cities in Saudi Arabia.

Giving an overview of the role of technology in enabling sustainable growth, Elfrink said as world population’s shift to urban areas, community leaders are pressed for answers to related problems. These include overcrowding, pollution, budget and resource constraints, inadequate infrastructures, and the need for continuing growth.

"Cisco Smart+Connected Communities solutions use intelligent networking capabilities to bring together people, services, community assets, and information to help community leaders address these world challenges. By connecting the unconnected, we can do amazing things to address these real world challenges and create a more sustainable environment: Economic Sustainability -- by creating jobs, boosting key industries, and attracting new businesses; Social Sustainability -- by providing services to enhance citizen's quality of life and social inclusion; Environmental Sustainability -- by lowering environmental impact and creating a greener society."

Asked how Cisco is bringing its innovative collaboration workspace environment to classrooms across the Middle East, Elfrink said: "One way can be seen at the Al-Jouf University, in upper north of the Kingdom, which has deployed Cisco WebEx enterprise collaboration solutions for efficient yet cost-effective and highly secure e-learning."

Cisco WebEx will provide Al-Jouf University students, lecturers and staff members with an easy way to exchange ideas and information with anyone, anywhere. Cisco WebEx combines real-time collaboration with voice over IP technology, so everyone sees the same thing as they converse. Al-Jouf University is following the precedent set by Harvard University, which also uses Cisco WebEx for distance and e-learning, he added.

About Cisco's position in software defined networking strategy, Elfrink said Cisco is enhancing the programmability of networking; SDN is part of that approach.
Cisco ONE's programmable networking approach is fundamental to Cisco's cloud, Core networking, and data center strategies. 

"With Cisco ONE, our customers get the most comprehensive approach to programmable networking in the industry. Whether they want physical or virtual, hardware or software, we can provide it."
Cisco ONE will support various stacks and hypervisors, including VMWare, Microsoft, Red Hat, and
OpenStack. Because of this, Cisco is in a good position to support heterogeneous and multiple data center environments, making Cisco ONE an opportunity for our company to strengthen its business while simultaneously helping the largest networking installed base on the planet strengthen theirs, Elfrink said.

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