Cisco Systems, the world's largest maker of networking equipment, has struck a deal with the Bahraini government to establish an internet data centre in the kingdom to serve as a regional hub. And with good reason: the Middle East has become the IT giant's fastest-growing market.
How significant is this agreement for Bahrain and for Cisco?
It's very significant for Bahrain and for us. For the internet data centre we have made a decision to use Bahrain as a base for our connections around the region and to India where we've got a multibillion-dollar investment.
Where countries do provide the capacity for technology and innovation, they will be the winners in the future.
We've looked around and we've made a decision based around this country and the government - the regulatory body here has made it more attractive than some of the countries you would typically think you would go.
We have more people in Saudi and the UAE than here by a long stretch, but as a communications hub this is far more attractive in terms of tariffs and voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP), which is still not legal in some countries in the Middle East.
Are there problems with the regulatory environment in other GCC countries?
The regulatory environment isn't the same in other countries. For example, VOIP is not permitted in many countries, whereas in Bahrain it is and the cost of the telecoms tariffs in Bahrain is very competitive.
The principle of Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century is that if everybody has full broadband capability then it flattens the whole world in terms of opportunities because you can sell products and services, or connect to people and social groups with full-on video interactive technology, the whole works. National barriers go away, they become almost irrelevant and so therefore the world is flat.
The reality is that the world is not flat as there is not enough competition in many markets sufficient that the price of broadband drops down to a level that is affordable for the majority of the population. In many countries in the emerging markets it's only the top 5 percent of the population that can afford broadband prices today.
How much of a challenge is the lack of ICT knowledge?
It's a massive challenge. There's a skills gap in Bahrain which we've talked to the government about and there's a skills gaps in just about every country in the world including the US and UK. The burning progress of technology is moving quicker than most countries can generate people for.
Where countries do provide the capacity for technology and innovation to be absorbed, they will be the winners in the future.
We know that where innovation takes place countries flourish, and where innovation is dead countries fail.
How important is the Middle East market to Cisco?
It's very important as emerging markets are the fastest-growing part of Cisco, and last year the Middle East was the fastest-growing part of emerging markets.
What recent human capital development initiatives has Cisco been involved in?
We've got networking academies set up which are free and where we provide the content in many different languages. They are vocational courses providing students with a qualification and they normally double their salary the minute they finish.
It creates jobs in the IT industry which is still the most productive industry in the world.
We have nearly 600,000 students in networking academies today and in Bahrain we have 10 academies and have trained more than 2500 students.
We are also doing something called Net University which is for university-level training. We are currently talking about this with the Bahraini government.For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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