Unleashing the potential of fibre optic technology in dynamic MENA markets.

26 July, 2021, Hampshire, England – 

Abdul Aziz Syed, Regional Sales Manager Middle East and North Africa (MENA), for Fotech, a bp Launchpad company, has established a clear strategy for Fotech’s fibre optic solutions in established and emerging markets across MENA. In this interview, he discusses the opportunities, particularly those not always associated with traditional sectors, for fibre optic monitoring and the challenges he is overcoming through approaches that add in-country value.   

How does fibre optic sensing technology work? 

In simple terms, fibre optics detect and monitor vibrations, strains and temperature changes in real-time. Thousands of pulses of light are sent along fibre optic cables every second and when these encounter vibrations, strains or temperature changes, the light reflected back changes in what’s called “backscattering”. The changes – which could come from a range of sources, such as vehicles being driven, people climbing or digging, leaks, human and animal intrusions or even explosions – are interpreted by our sophisticated software using advanced algorithms and AI. Fibre optic sensing – or Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) technology – can be installed new or integrated into existing infrastructure, and works with Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning platforms. 

Each type of disturbance has its own signature and DAS technology informs operators in real-time what is happening and where it is happening. As well as collecting the right data in the right locations, DAS technology makes analysing data easy so operators can make good, fast decisions. It has so many applications for a wide range of MENA clients throughout this huge geographical region and we’re reaching out in all countries with our sales programme. 

What industry sectors are Fotech targeting in the region? 

In MENA we’re moving away from traditional sectors, such as oil and gas pipelines, and focusing on sectors where we’re seeing real growth. These are the sectors where the applications for fibre optic sensing will truly come into their own. Water pipeline monitoring is a really important application. It’s an area that is close to my heart as the region has serious water stress and fresh water loss is an issue, but fibre optic sensing can detect faults, such as a burst pipe, quickly. There is heavy reliance on desalination plants across the Middle East because of poor groundwater and the infrastructure required to ensure a reliable water supply needs to be monitored more effectively so problems can be detected and remedied without delay. 

Does moving away from oil and gas mean Fotech is targeting the renewable energy sector? 

Yes, definitely. Fotech’s parent company, bp, is making major investments in renewables and there are significant developments in solar and wind power generation in UAE and Saudi Arabia. And in North Africa, Morocco is a major growth market for solar energy, so we see plenty of opportunities there. Indeed, all utilities can benefit from fibre optic monitoring technology because it is a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, unobtrusive way to protect these important assets.  

What about transport applications? 

There is so much potential because of the significant investment in rail and metro projects across the MENA region, some of which have been completed and some of which are still underway. Rail investment is critical to smart cities, and fibre optic sensing can monitor everything from possible intruders on rail networks to track faults before they become major hazards.  

And road transport is offering exciting new opportunities with autonomous vehicles (AVs) projected to become commonplace in the years ahead. AVs need smart roads, and this is where DAS technology will come into its own. Fibre optic cables can provide continuous monitoring of roads and provide live feedback to AVs about the conditions ahead, such as potholes, people and animals on the road, as well as accidents. This, in turn, makes AVs safer. 

What opportunities are there for aviation? 

Airports are like small smart cities. There are businesses, pipelines and infrastructure that need protection, so the opportunities for DAS technology to bolster safety and security are numerous. The customer experience matters in airports too – DAS can monitor footfall in areas such as duty-free shopping and food courts to help these businesses plan for busier times, as well as to screen for intruders and other hazards. Airport applications reflect the ways Fotech is working with smart cities today to make them safe and secure and to improve quality of life.  

What MENA markets have the most growth potential for Fotech? 

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are our top MENA markets, and they are massive investors in a range of major infrastructure projects, but we are interested in the whole region. Qatar and Kuwait are particularly important, as well as Jordan, especially with its potential for upgrading water infrastructure. The UAE normalising relations with Israel is also beneficial and we are already working with Israeli companies and exploring the scene there. 

Egypt, Algeria and Morocco are our key North African markets – there has been a lot of investment interest, especially from European banks, in projects to improve living conditions and to develop oil, gas, renewables and minerals.  

Are there any obstacles to overcome when working with MENA markets? 

It is essential that we understand the different markets across the region – it is a very segmented market with each country having unique needs, so we must tailor the way we work with different clients across – and even within – countries. Within the UAE, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are very separate markets even though they are about an hour apart by road.    

Localisation is another challenge, but we are meeting it in a way that’s very rewarding. It is important in these markets to keep value within the countries, so we are building strong ecosystems of local partners. It is not just about setting up offices but creating more value for nationals – for example, hiring well-educated, unemployed young people in these countries and training them to take on important roles and to be part of the development of their economies.  

How do you sell the technology to demanding clients? 

Clients are focused on the security of their assets, but they don’t want the monitoring to be intrusive. DAS technology is underground, and one cable can provide so much information, while protecting privacy because all data is anonymised. Data is the fuel to transform economies and to enable innovation. We monitor and decode the data in real-time – it is the peak of information excellence. For many clients, budgets are tight, but fibre optic sensing is cost-effective.  

The future for this technology is bright and it is improving every day – evolving as smaller and even less obtrusive while becoming more accurate – so it’s worth making the investment now. 

For more information please contact: Georgia Lewis Indaba Communications georgia@weareindaba.com

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