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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is aiming to launch the Middle East's first international centre for telecommunications research and innovation by the first quarter of 2009.

The Etisalat BT Innovation Centre (EBTIC) seeks to become a regional hub of research and innovation in the field of information and communications technology (ICT), both within the Middle East region and beyond.

An agreement was signed last week (7 October) between Etisalat, a UAE telecommunications company; BT, a UK telecommunications company; and the UAE-based Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KUSTAR).

EBTIC will collaborate with industry, universities and governmental organisations to develop and exploit intellectual property rights, foster local talent, serve as a hub for international collaboration and higher educational programmes, and attract talent from across the world.

Research priorities will include 'next generation networks' — systems that enable a full range of information and services, such as voice, video and data applications, to be transported by a single network.

"History shows that pairing up industry with academia is an indispensible element of success for research centres [such as these], especially if we look at producing commercial and practical solutions," says Said Elnaffar, assistant professor at the College of Information Technology at UAE University.

He adds that he expects both "rapid and wide" collaboration at a regional level and international collaboration.

Elnaffar adds, "The research programme … [will facilitate the] development of cost-effective technology needed for the region for promoting telemedicine services and distance education programmes."

He says that EBTIC along with UNESCO's Bahrain-based Regional Centre for Information and Communication Technology — which is currently being established — will play a strong role in narrowing the digital divide between Arab countries and the developed world.

The centre will by hosted by KUSTAR on its Abu Dhabi campus, funded by Etisalat and managed by all three organisations. KUSTAR will provide researchers and network infrastructure for the centre.

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