Cisco, Intel and Microsoft have joined forces to boost Lebanon's ravaged IT infrastructure and open up information technology in the Middle East region.
Cisco has announced it will present two Cisco Telepresence systems each, to the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The objective is to improve communications and collaboration within and among these countries by harnessing high quality, two-way video and audio capabilities and develop information communication technology (ICT) in the region.
One of three major IT companies in the US-Lebanon Partnership fund - along with Intel, Microsoft, Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Ghafari and Global Impact - Cisco believes technology, and specifically ICT, has a massive role to play in the gradual rejuvenation of Lebanon.
"In an increasingly global and connected world, communications and collaboration become ever more important - not only for people and companies, but for countries as well," says John Chambers, chairman and CEO at Cisco.
"Cisco Telepresence has introduced an entirely new way to communicate and collaborate, and the adoption of this technology by the countries announced today illustrates the role ICT can play for countries in the emerging markets to leapfrog existing infrastructures. We believe that the implementation of leading-edge technologies, in each of these countries will help foster greater interaction within both the countries and the region, presenting new ways to enhance the lives and opportunities for their citizens.
"We believe that ICT has the ability to deliver value, collaboration and ultimately productivity to communities and countries. These benefits have a proven impact on both the social and economic growth of a region such as the emerging markets," he adds.
Cisco expects to have the systems in all five countries within six months and plans to host a multi-point conference via TelePresence with the regional leaders to launch the network.
The company estimates its initial contribution will be approximately US$6m, including planning, design and installation and a year's worth of support services costs, with overall investment expected to reach a grand total of US$20m.
"Cisco is making a US$20m commitment to this effort. For example, we are contributing to job creation through US$10m in venture funding and the creation of internships. We are also helping to establish community centres in Lebanon by providing the ICT infrastructure. In addition, we are donating two Cisco TelePresence systems to the government of Lebanon to help facilitate communications and collaboration within the country. And we are more than doubling our networking academies in Lebanon to forty-four with the goal of reaching 2,500 students," says Chambers.
The company launched the TelePresence offering last October. Utilising innovations in video, audio and remote communication technologies over an internet protocol (IP) network, Cisco claims the system makes communications between remote locations comprehensively simpler and ‘as easy as placing a regular phone call'.
Providing the highest-end version of the systems - Cisco TelePresence 3000 - each solution includes three 65-inch plasma screens complete with a specially designed table that seats six participants on one side - a "virtual table" for 12 - and supports life-size images, ultra high-definition video and spatial audio capabilities.
With Lebanon burdened by an inefficient ICT infrastructure, the partnership has pledged to support development of an international gateway and an internet exchange point in Lebanon. It is expected this will help develop the country's economy by enabling open communications in a competitive environment. However, there is no confirmation that the support will include donation of equipment, training and consulting.
The international gateway should provide improved international internet connectivity for Lebanon, while the internet exchange point will strengthen local infrastructure to help meet the objectives of lowering costs and improving the speed and efficiency of internet traffic flow throughout the country.
"We have developed initiatives in five key areas critical to sustaining economic growth in the region. These areas include: crisis relief and response, information communication technology infrastructure, workforce training, job creation and private sector revival as well as connected government," explains Chambers.
Technology has an increasingly important role to play in the delivery of government and social services in Lebanon. Enabling online community access by providing online access points will offer social resources such as job training, healthcare information and online education and will also open up the country to global resources such as online libraries, other rich media content and government services.
"Lebanon will only be rebuilt through actions focused on improving the educational and economic infrastructure," said Craig Barrett, Chairman, Intel Corporation. "The first US$1m in grants from the US-Lebanon Partnership Fund will enhance the existing relief efforts. By collaborating with proven non governmental organisations (NGO) our goal is to accelerate meeting the immediate needs of adequate housing, education and worker training."
Microsoft believes that addressing Lebanon's dilapidated communications infrastructure immediately, will enable quick, efficient collaboration between the partnership, government and NGOs to address basic requirements like housing and education faster.
"Microsoft has been working with Lebanon's government and NGOs for years, collaborating on education projects, on efforts to expand technology access, and on e-government solutions. We're pleased to be involved in the US-Lebanon Partnership Fund. This builds on our ongoing efforts to help foster stability and promote development across the Middle East," says Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO.
Chambers says that corporations are in a position to ‘give back' and that the business resources provided by the US-Lebanon partnership can be replicated and utilised on a global scale to aid country development.
"Today's global businesses are in a unique position to help improve the future of Lebanon. I also believe that there is an opportunity to create a successful model that can be replicated in other areas of the world. By applying the combined resources and expertise of businesses, our efforts can be much more effective than if we acted alone," concludes Chambers.