By Tim Bawtree, Founder and CEO of Quantum Switch
The Next Billion internet users will precipitate a significant shift in the centre of gravity in the digital world. It is an exciting opportunity to help rebalance not just the online economy, but the opportunities, growth and development of global society. The nuts and bolts of that online world, the digital infrastructure including data centres, have a crucial role to play in this rebalancing. Quantum Switch has the experience, skills and insights to do it right. It is our role and responsibility to create fair, robust and sustainable foundations for the Next Billion.
Leaders from Facebook and Google to Elon Musk are investing in novel ways of connecting populations to the internet – but data centres are fundamental to any scheme to connect the Next Billion. The race is on to find and secure sites, design and build suitable facilities, and staff and operate them close to these newly digital populations. Which is where Quantum Switch comes in. We are helping connect hyperscale providers, investors and governments to find, develop and operate the sites that will underpin this significant shift.
SURGING DEMAND: URGENT NEED FOR CAPACITY
As this excellent graphic from the World Bank shows, between 2010 and 2019/20 (the most recent year for which it has data), internet penetration in Africa and SE Asia leapt from an average of less than ten per cent to between 30 and 40% in most countries. The rate of growth in these regions is astonishing. Between 2000 and 2020 Africa as a continent saw 1,220 per cent growth in internet subscribers, The Middle East saw growth of 6,141% and Asia 2,341%. Although some Gulf states are now approaching the penetration rates of the US and Europe (and exceeding them in some areas), there seems no reason that the growth of digital connectivity will slacken in the coming years. In fact, with younger than average populations, more likely to adopt digital services, it is likely that the Internet’s shift East and South will accelerate.
Across these growth regions, demand is already outstripping capacity. Governments and private sector businesses are lining up significant investments to rapidly create local and regional digital infrastructure. As just one example, last October the Saudi Government announced an $18 billion investment to build 1300MW of data centre capacity over the next five years. This capacity is destined not only to service the needs of its citizens, but to establish the Kingdom as a cloud services hub for emerging digital markets across the Middle East and North Africa. Other governments are eyeing similar plans as they look to modernise their economies and tilt to digital as the source of future growth. It is an exciting time of opportunity for global hyperscalers looking to reach the Next Billion and for those that design, build and operate the facilities that host them.
BUILDING CAPABILITY ALONGSIDE CAPACITY
However, this growth is not without its challenges. Finding and securing land, obtaining permissions, certificates, access to power and connectivity are all significant barriers to entry for any developer seeking to build new data centre facilities. These challenges are especially acute for foreign players unfamiliar with local environments from political and financial to physical and ecological. At the same time there is little local experience in data centre development, further complicating the process of finding sites suitable for major facilities. It is important to ensure that the digital future of these new markets is synonymous with a sustainable and environmentally friendly future. Quantum Switch works with its partners to plan green grid capacity ahead of new data centre demand, as well as utilising the most modern low-carbon building techniques. Finally, both hyperscalers and investors (Governmental and private) want to move fast in increasingly competitive markets. Delivering capacity at speed is core to the Quantum Switch promise.
Local people, from landowners, to construction workers, and from technical engineers to support services, must be the main beneficiaries in any projects. At Quantum Switch we combine all that we know and have learnt from two decades of data centre design, build and operation with existing local expertise and understanding to deliver win-win situations for all parties. Empowering local landowners to benefit from the growth in the digital economy by offering a risk-mitigated approach to leveraging their land for digital infrastructure is one approach. Helping those with no experience in designing, building and operating data centres, by providing insights and skillsets that offer a route to long-term, secure, high quality, rental income from their land is another. And we are working to quickly develop skilled roles for local people to build and operate these 21st century assets. For example, our partnership with CNet allows our teams to achieve globally recognised accreditations in crucial technology skills.
Quantum Switch’s mission is to create the sustainable digital infrastructure that supports the vital shift South and East in the digital economy. Partnering with local businesses and investors to create high-end, digital infrastructure brings this emerging economy and its benefits closer to the businesses and consumers across the Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia.