Business is booming in the Middle East, especially in telecommunications. Saudi Arabia is driving growth, commissioning, and financing infrastructure projects while investing in culture, tourism, and sports, transforming the region into a world-class destination for everyone from cycling fans to music lovers.
Despite the tremendous opportunities in the region, there are significant infrastructure challenges. Specifically, the larger telecommunications incumbents who have their own set of challenges when working on regional projects. It’s a long road to reach fully unified services but the landscape is changing. There’s been an increased appetite for collaborative efforts, and a new partnership with Kalaam Carrier Solutions, led by Germany’s RIEDEL Networks, takes advantage of this new landscape.
Building a Permanent Regional Network
One of the most exciting developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is the growing passion for sports—especially motorsports—with four Arabian Gulf races on the 2023 calendar and endurance races. RIEDEL Networks has worked with the biggest motorsports series since 1993, managing audio, video, and data feeds received from each racetrack and distributing them to racing teams, their factories, the governing body, and host broadcasters. Its dedicated team of 20 engineers sets up, tears down, and supports all onsite systems at every event of the season, leveraging Riedel’s worldwide infrastructure to transmit race coverage to an average of 70.3 million television viewers per race and 443 million unique viewers a year.
Riedel works with regional and national incumbent carriers as necessary, and the hunger for motorsports in the MENA region is a tremendous opportunity for the company and its partners. With projected growth of 8.7% by 2026, sporting events are a powerful economic driver. For example, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar attracted nearly 5 billion worldwide viewers and generated $1.56 billion for the country.
“The power of sports is driving change in the region,” said Julia Kirk, Manager of Special Bids and Projects at RIEDEL Networks. “So that is something we would like to focus on, expanding our business and cooperation in the region to be prepared for this in the coming years.”
With four events of the world’s most known motorsport on the region’s calendar and a growing number of WEC and other race series, Riedel needed to build a reliable, fast, and failure-proof network to deliver onsite and international connectivity. They also wanted to make it permanent, which meant they had to reduce the technical complexity of the infrastructure while minimizing administrative headaches.
Seeking a Single Vendor with Deep Roots in the Gulf Region
It takes tremendous telecommunications infrastructure to organize premium sporting events and deliver them to audiences and fans around the world. The resources and partnerships put in place can also open the doors to other connectivity projects. For this project, Riedel sought out incumbents that would assume responsibility for their contributions to the network and who possess deep knowledge about local operations and best practices. It was a big undertaking, but Riedel didn’t want to reinvent the wheel.
“I’m always interested in an easy solution that’s reliable, easy to repair, and quick,” said Timo Siebel, Chief Technology Officer at RIEDEL Networks. “But there had to be more to the potential partnership than the technology.” Also, a partner who is focusing on getting the job done, who has a sense of urgency and knowledge of the business, and then if there is an issue, not having to discuss whose fault it is or how to report anything—just focused on the technical issue and support.“
Ideally, they wanted to find a single vendor who could handle all the races in all the Gulf State countries, providing a one-stop shop and a standardized solution across all sites and events. To get the ball rolling, Riedel sought a partner to connect the region’s four biggest race tracks to it´s global core network for the beginning of the 2023 season in February and put out a call for tenders.
At the same time, Kalaam Telecom, Group headquartered in Bahrain with 6 global offices, was also seeking an opportunity to work on a regional project with RIEDEL Networks. Kalaam Telecom Group is a leading digital solutions provider offering connectivity, voice & comm, cloud, managed networks, cybersecurity, ICT & data center solutions. Kalaam Telecom Group typically handles infrastructure for multinational companies doing business in the Arabian Peninsula, connecting buildings to global corporate WANs and ensuring 24/7 service and support. Kalaam Carrier Solutions, a unified wholesale brand of Kalaam Telecom Group is a single face for the carrier community focused on providing bespoke solutions to carriers, hyperscalers & cloud content providers. With a vision of connecting MENA simplified Kalaam Carrier Solutions is a carrier’s carrier, providing infrastructure that other telcos use for their respective products and services.
Kalaam Carrier Solutions had previously worked on motorsports projects as the sole vendor on a stand-alone basis. However, the company’s previous motorsports projects had been ephemeral. While venue infrastructure remained in place, network connections were activated in the weeks before an event and shuttered after the race was over.
This opportunity offered a chance for the carriers’ carrier to shine.
A Fantastic Opportunity for Both Parties
Riedel needed a partner who understood the region and market well and had existing ties to local carriers. They wanted a vendor who could deftly navigate local business customs and regulatory frameworks, get things done, and deliver a project on time and within budget. Kalaam Carrier Solutions was perfectly positioned to meet these and other project criteria, offering an independent, objective view into the challenges of working in the MENA region, helping Riedel eliminate red tape, and recommending the best infrastructure solutions to overcome local geographic, economic, and technological hurdles.
“We try to take a more of a carrier agnostic view,” said Luthfur Khan, Senior Regional Director at Kalaam Carrier Solutions. “Some of the complexities in the Middle East are quite unique to the Middle East, and unless you are living and breathing it daily. We do our utmost best to ensure that we outline any advantages and disadvantages of the various solutions to our partners. That may result in us providing 20% or 70% of the service. But the aim is to deliver the best possible service to the customer.“
Kalaam’s existing network offered robust connectivity between the Arab Peninsula and the rest of the world. The company was uniquely positioned to support Riedel in establishing a new point of presence (POP) in Manama, Bahrain, connect the racetracks to that POP, and then connecting the Bahrain POP to Riedel’s other POPs in Marseille, Milan, and Singapore. Connecting the racetracks to Riedel´s new Bahrain POP required routing traffic across government and other private third-party networks, and Kalaam provided a solid overview of the high-demand infrastructure needed to transmit high-profile sporting events worldwide in real time.
With so much to offer, Kalaam was the clear frontrunner, and the company was invited to submit a proposal. The team at Riedel was impressed by the two-part presentation, comprising a technical and commercial section.
“It was a huge opportunity for us —getting the chance to actually work with a project that is under the spotlight and is viewed by hundreds of millions of people around the world,” said Ataullah Tisekar (Ata), Assistant Director, Europe and North America at Kalaam. After the technical presentation, Ata asked RIEDEL Networks CEO Michael Martens what he thought. “Michael took a pause there. It was the longest five seconds of our lives I think. And then he goes, ‘Of all the possible partners that we’ve met so far, you guys are the only ones who’ve understood what we really want.”
Kalaam’s tender was incredibly detailed and adressed all the questions RIEDEL Networks asked.
From Left – Luthfur Khan, May Neama, Riedel motorsports specialst , Veer Passi Group CEO of Kalaam, Michael Martens CEO RIEDEL Networks