By the standards of the wider European Union, Gibraltar has been relatively slow to realise the benefits of a liberalised telecommunications industry. Given Gibraltar’s size, Government interest in the incumbent provider (typical legacy of earlier privatisation of utilities) and international political dimension of issues related to Spain (e.g. long-running, now resolved dispute over the 350 dialing prefix), it was perhaps inevitable that change, done right, would take time.
Gibtelecom’s earlier monopoly in the sector now faces competition from Sapphire Networks who have maintained a relatively low profile until recently. Sapphire have looked to challenge the marketing-driven ‘over-promise’ and ‘under-delivery’ culture which characterises so many technology startups. Core to Sapphire’s philosophy is their approach to service delivery – over-engineered solutions designed to exceed customer expectations are ‘the norm’.
Since their formation in 2005, following the acquisition of Gibraltar’s first internet service provider GibNet, the Sapphire team (locals Lawrence Isola and Tony Welsh sit on the board) have been focused on the significant planning and investment required to deliver a wholly-owned and operated, next generation network to challenge anything available in Gibraltar.
This resulted in a fibre-optic cable ‘ring’ around the Rock which features no single point of failure. Sapphire’s own network extends into Spain where they are a fully licensed telecoms operator (two firsts for Gibraltar) – two fibre links (one owned by Sapphire, the other by Telefonica) and an additional Sapphire wireless circuit link to their ‘point of presence’ (POP) in La Linea, the use of different technologies enhancing resilience even further.
From La Linea, Sapphire partner with leading telecoms operators Telefonica and ONO, each providing dual resilient circuits to Sapphire’s POP in Madrid, from where they can connect to wherever is required. With the southern region of Spain traditionally the weakest link in the international telecommun-ications chain to Gibraltar, this was an essential and inspired piece of network design.
Avoiding any dependence on Gibtelecom has allowed Sapphire to develop its own internet and leased line products, services and pricing, unlike operators who depend on third parties. This also allowed Sapphire to improve on previous standards of resilience and take full control and responsibility for important aspects of service quality such as latency (effectively, the time taken for data to reach its destination), key to customers involved in internet gaming, banking and all businesses generally who are trading on international financial markets.
Sapphire’s whole proposition was heavily influenced by the exacting demands of Gibraltar’s online gaming industry, unsurprisingly the main beneficiary of Sapphire’s enterprise services and 100% network uptime since implementation. It has been imperative for the continuing development of the jurisdiction that Gibraltar is able to offer a serious alternative to Gibtelecom, in the interest of competition as well as to mitigate operational and supplier risks. Their efforts in this regard have received widespread support from the Gibraltar Government and GRA (Gibraltar Regulatory Authority – responsible for regulating telecommunications as well as gaming) and Sapphire have been successful in signing up significant business from the gaming sector, where contract periods of up to seven years were not unusual prior to their arrival.
Sapphire recruited resources from leading companies around the world to design and manage their systems and they have achieved a high ratio of technical to other (administrative, etc.) staff. They have invested in the latest hardware from the likes of Cisco and Juniper Networks, and partnered with leading-edge DDoS (denial of service) protection from Toplayer, a key requisite for global web-based businesses.
Whether as a primary telecoms supplier or as a backup, customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with excellent comparative statistics on service performance and even references exchanged between competitors. Sapphire now have a track record to support the theoretical potential of their network and they have demonstrated they can deliver for Gibraltar business so you should expect to hear much more from Sapphire in 2009.
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