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The connected player

Gibtelecom has been both building block and beneficiary of the explosion of e-gaming on the Rock. Its Chief Executive Officer, Tim Bristow, makes the links.

 Gibraltar Telecom has sponsored this supplement on e-gaming but you’re a telecoms company. What’s the link?

Gibtelecom built a fibre-optic network throughout Gibraltar in the 1990s which, together with the merger with a local international carrier and mobile business, provides the communications backbone for the e-gaming sector in Gibraltar. Meeting the requirements of some of the biggest and best e-gaming companies in the world has influenced our development and made us raise our game. Without the communications infrastructure, online companies could not have come to Gibraltar in the first place. Since then, we have substantially enhanced our national and international networks, and consequently Gibtelecom remains the communications company of choice in the jurisdiction even after competitors entered the scene.

What makes Gibraltar a competitive jurisdiction for e-gaming?

Though e-gaming companies are attracted to Gibraltar as an EU jurisdiction, with a friendly business environment and competitive fiscal package, they also benefit from a qualified workforce and plenty of ancillary professionals. The online gaming industry is dependent on good telecommunications, and would not be able to thrive here if the industry was not up to speed; it is this all round package that makes Gibraltar competitive. Although Gibraltar has more than one local telecommunications provider, it is Gibtelecom that is still leading the way locally with resilient fibre optic connectivity, multiple diverse international links (partnering with Telefonica, Interoute and Vodafone amongst others). Gibtelecom has huge amounts of bandwidth readily available for expansion or event bursting. Gibtelecom has been committed to investing in providing robust and diverse national and international fibre-optic routes. Gibtelecom’s investment in the state-ofthe- art Europe India Gateway (EIG) submarine cable and quality data centres will help keep Gibraltar a top tier business jurisdiction. The EIG high bandwidth fibre-optic system not only complements existing routes but also provides Gibraltar with an alternative submarine path, without the capacity limitations or the incidence of interruptions that often face land routes.

What does Gibtelecom have to offer and what has it been doing to meet the quality and services required in such a demanding area such as e-gaming?

Gibtelecom prides itself on being in-sync with technology as well as in touch with its customers. Gibraltar is a hub for some of the leading e-gaming companies in the world. The Rock is not just a business friendly environment with a competitive tax regime, it is also well connected and has a stable regulatory framework focused on good corporate governance and customer protection. Indeed, if the communications infrastructure and solutions were not continuously developing then the e-gaming sector couldn’t have thrived in the jurisdiction as well as it has. In a world that is increasingly reliant on round-the-clock high speed communications Gibtelecom is at the forefront of de- veloping the technology to ensure the growing needs of e-commerce and the wider community in Gibraltar are met. At home Gibtelecom is building a next generation network, which can facilitate internet speeds of up to 100 Mbps throughout Gibraltar. Gibtelecom is also an accredited ‘recognised for excellence’ company by the European Foundation for Quality Management, which is a testament to the high standards the Company has delivered to Gibraltar’s e-gaming community.

How has the Company developed its data centre business?

The data centre business as we know it today has changed much since Gibtelecom set up its first hosting environment nearly a decade ago, and as the market needs changed developing this part of the business was a natural move. Gibtelecom’s data centre development plans are very much aligned to customers’ business and IT strategies, as well as their specific regulatory and industry requirements. For example, the facilities being Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant is an essential factor for many of our customers due to the large volumes of financial transactions they process. Our aim is to be the customer’s partner of choice by ensuring that our data centres have the right technical set-up, connectivity, security and environment to meet market requirements.

What challenges does a focus on egaming and finance markets create?

Catering for some of the most demanding e-commerce businesses in the world has resulted in Gibtelecom creating a more robust international network from Gibraltar. In a global business environment, hosting facilities need to be paired with seamless and resilient connectivity. This was the impetus for the Company being one of the founding shareholders of the Europe India Gateway (EIG) consortium, a new 15,000km high bandwidth fibreoptic submarine cable spanning from London to Mumbai. The cable system runs across three continents and has thirteen landing points along the way, of which Gibraltar is one. As well as providing linkages to other international cable systems, the route complements Gibtelecom’s other links, connecting to hubs in London, Madrid and Marseilles.

What is Gibtelecom doing to meet the demands of gaming companies with regards to the contracting of hosting services?

Trends in the sector, which Gibtelecom is actively leading, are towards a one-stopcommunications- shop, embracing telecommunications, computer hosting and value-added services. Gibtelecom is by far the biggest provider of data hosting services in Gibraltar. We operate several stateof- the-art data centres in a secure location; well above sea level and away from the main centres of business on the Rock. Our data centres employ the latest industry standard technologies, including efficient cooling and standby power, and are Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant. All Gibtelecom’s data centres are supported by an onsite Network Operations Centre, with engineers available 24/7.

Could you explain what the EIG project represents and what does this investment represent to the Company?

The EIG submarine cable not only complements Gibtelecom’s extant terrestrial and other sea routes, but has placed the company in a position to seek business opportunities outside Gibraltar. This is an exciting project for us. It means Gibtelecom is now a global carrier and able to provide wholesale bandwidth and carrier services with more routing options and diversity. Gibtelecom set up an international marketing arm in 2011 to develop and seek new offshore growth opportunities, since landing partnerships with telco’s headquartered in London, Sydney, New York, Monaco, Johannesburg and Seychelles amongst others. Following the substantial multi-million pound investment in this submarine route, Gibtelecom is looking at expanding its networks further, with plans already underway to increase network diversity via new routes transiting through Monaco and Marseilles into various key communications hubs in Europe. This said, the considerable additional investment has not been endured by the customer. In fact, 2012 saw substantial reductions in IP bandwidth prices of up to 25 percent, and averaging some 14 percent across all e-commerce customers.

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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Looking to the future

In our last regular article on Gibraltar for a while, Gibraltar Chronicle editor Brian Reyes looks to the economic and political outlook for the short and medium term.

At the beginning of March, over 150 members of the local business community gathered in the World Trade Center construction site for a ‘topping out’ ceremony. As the last beam was placed on the structure, guests heard speeches about Gibraltar’s resilient economy, its potential for international growth and the need to offer global businesses the necessary working environment to remain competitive.

The EU referendum and the prospect of a so-called Brexit are dominating the headlines, and much of the coverage is gloomy. But in the background, Gibraltar’s private sector continues to drive projects which, in the long term, will help attract international investors to the Rock.

Earlier that same day, Gibraltar’s Development and Planning Commission heard submissions from well-known British architect Jonathan Manser, who leads the design team behind Eurocity, another major development that has its eye on Gibraltar and a prosperous future.

There are other schemes too, some still on the drawing board, some already under way. The MidTown Development, a mix of offices and top-end flats, is funded by a local consortium on a prime site in the heart of town. On the east of the Rock, the ambitious Bluewater project promises a mix of luxury and affordable homes alongside a marina. There are plans too for a former Ministry of Defence site named after Admiral Rooke, while in the Old Town, developers and individual home owners are breathing life into this run down but charming warren of steep, narrow alleyways.

Elsewhere, work is progressing on key infrastructure that will be essential for Gibraltar’s future, in or out of the EU.

Experts are finalising the environmental impact assessment for a facility that will store liquefied natural gas for Gibraltar’s new power station, already under construction. Work should resume too on the airport tunnel project, vital to freeing up Gibraltar’s clogged roads. A new sewage treatment plant, although still some way off, is also in the pipeline, a critical and long-overdue element of Gibraltar’s infrastructure.

There are new attractions for tourists - the opening of the Upper Rock rope bridge and sky platform is eagerly awaited by locals too - and important developments in culture and education, where the University of Gibraltar is building strong academic links across the community and beyond.

And against the background of uncertainty over the UK’s - and by extension Gibraltar’s - membership of the EU, the Gibraltar Government is leaving nothing to chance. A team of economists is analysing the different possible permutations of membership of the EU, EFTA or the EEA, including the potential effects on the Rock’s export economy of membership of the Common Customs Union. 

Despite the combative nature of Gibraltarian politics, there is unity on this question. Both the Gibraltar Government of Gibraltar and the Opposition agree that the UK and Gibraltar should remain in the EU and that Brexit could undermine the Rock’s economic model, creating uncertainty that Spain will undoubtedly seek to exploit. They add that the UK must factor Gibraltar into any post-Brexit negotiation with the EU.

Gibraltar’s long-term economic future will also be placed under scrutiny locally this year by the 2025 Committee, which brings together the public and private sectors and unions to draw up 10-year strategies for the different sectors of the economy, identifying challenges and opportunities in areas as diverse as e-gaming and shipping. A key element of this will be to find new opportunities for business in emerging markets in Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.

In parallel, a cross-party select committee of the Gibraltar Parliament will analyse various aspects of the 2006 Constitution ahead of a constitutional conference with the United Kingdom on a date yet to be determined. Along with the UK’s referendum on EU membership, the constitutional review will dominate much of parliamentary and political activity during 2016 and likely into 2017. If any changes are proposed as a result of the review, they will first have to be put to a referendum before they can be adopted.

Gibraltar is keeping a wary eye too on Spain, which has yet to swear in a government following an inconclusive general election last December. The future of cross-border relations will depend not just on whether the UK remains within the EU, but on the outcome of the post-election wrangling in Spain.

But even as Spanish politicians try to hammer out a coalition pact in a bid to avoid a return to the polls in June, there is grassroots contact across the border.

The Cross Frontier Group, which brings together business and union interests from Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar, is forging ahead with a proposal to access EU funding for cross-border initiatives. Separately, the government continues to maintain contact with Spanish politicians ranging from PSOE senators to the mayor of La Linea, Juan Franco.

The hope is that, having cleared the EU referendum hurdle, Gibraltar will be able to develop positive dialogue with Spain, irrespective of who is in government. There is much to be gained through practical cooperation in areas as diverse as commerce, culture and sport.

There is, inevitably, a degree of caution. Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, has signalled that if Britain left the EU - and if his party remained in power - he would seek to revive the joint sovereignty proposal robustly rejected by Gibraltar in 2002. 

It would be a move doomed to failure because Gibraltar will have nothing to do with such a a proposal, and neither will the UK. Their shared view is that nothing can be decided on Gibraltar’s future without the agreement of the Gibraltarians.

When he was sworn in as Gibraltar’s new Governor last January, Lieutenant General Edward Davis reaffirmed the UK’s double-lock commitment to the people of Gibraltar, underscoring their inalienable right to self-determination and the UK’s commitment to secure their consent in all matters that pertain to the sovereignty of Gibraltar.  

In doing so, he was reflecting the words of one of his predecessors, General Sir William Jackson.

“Gibraltar is neither Spain’s to claim nor Britain’s to give,” Sir William wrote, in a sentence that resonates to this day and sums up the situation succinctly.

“It is the rock of the Gibraltarians.”

This will be the last item on the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub for at least a while. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed bringing you insights and hopefully greater understanding of the issues affecting the Rock as well as its politics, culture, geology and a great deal else. We would like to thank our sponsors the Gibraltar government, our many writers and above all our readers.

Charlotte Simmonds, editor, March 2014-March 2015

Guy Clapperton, editor March 2015-March 2016

Brian Reyes is the editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle.