Iraq has engaged Cisco to build a terrestrial optical network up to Turkey. Dubbed as “The Iraqi National Backbone” it will reach most major Iraqi cities. It will be available to the public as the new official internet service provider (ISP) for Iraq. The new network is an alternative to existing submarine networks that reached the Middle East from Europe either via the Suez Canal, or by a longer route around the Horn of Africa. It will offer the highest capacity and lowest latency of any Europe-Middle East communications solution.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has the history of not reading the writing on the wall. As the Isis militants advance leaving the trail of massacre, Maliki has bravely picked the mother of all soft targets – the Internet. Doug Madory of Renesys has graphically narrated how the Iraqi government refers “network maintenance” to Internet shutdown. Modern Iraqis, both Shiite and Sunnis, have, however, switched over to mesh network and communicate through an application named FireChat. FireChat was originally developed as a way for people to communicate in areas with poor mobile phone reception, such as underground trains.
Saddam seems to be only physically absent in the post-Saddam Iraq. The Ministry of Communication, instead of an independent regulator, calls the shot in governing the country’s telecom sector. Recently it erratically imposed a tax on the ISPs who procure Internet bandwidth from foreign carriers. The ISPs have immediately loaded that tax on retail prices. Bowing to public anger, the government withdrew the tax.
On Dec 2-3, 2012, the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology organized the 2nd National e Government Conference in Baghdad. Senior Research Fellow Subhash Bhatnagar made the opening presentation. I made a presentation on infrastructure along with Shahani Weerawarana who spoke on public private partnerships.
Led by Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan we’ve been saying that Asia needs a terrestrial cable system to back up the submarine cables. By the time international government organizations get organized, the private workarounds will be fully operational. Like traders plying the ancient Silk Road, telecommunications operators routing bits and bytes from Asia to Europe and back have to pass through the Middle East, whose tricky geography and even more challenging geopolitics have sometimes made the region just as much of a bottleneck in the digital realm as in the physical world. When things go wrong, the consequences can be serious and far-reaching. In January 2008, for example, several underwater cables off the Mediterranean coast of Egypt were inexplicably severed.
When we asked the people of Jaffna what good came of the ceasefire of 2002-05, they said phones and the opening of the road connecting them to the rest of Sri Lanka. Looks like the Iraqis are similar. I love my mobile like a baby, says on Iraqi mother. De facto m-payments are also significant, though there are some problems, according to the Economist. Criminal rings are among the parallel currency’s busiest users.
There is little doubt that future wars will include cyber theaters. The NYT story describes cyber attacks and the dangers of collateral damage. Although the digital attack on Iraq’s financial system was not carried out, the American military and its partners in the intelligence agencies did receive approval to cripple Iraq’s military and government communications systems in the early hours of the war in 2003. And that attack did produce collateral damage. Besides blowing up cellphone towers and communications grids, the offensive included electronic jamming and digital attacks against Iraq’s telephone networks.
A leading US adviser to the Iraqi telecommunications network reconstruction effort is circulating an extensive critique of progress there, charging that Iraq badly lags on development of core fibre infrastructure, faces a massive ICT training shortfall and has erred in rewarding politically-influential US vendors with supply contracts. Bob Fonow, who completed a 18-month stint as senior consultant, telecoms and IT at the US State Department in Baghdad earlier this year, also charges that the recent military surge has seen the US Department of Defense command excessive influence in telecom reconstruction, often in areas where it has insufficient expertise. For example, Fonow talks of a “very pleasant buck sergeant” assigned to advise the Ministry of Communications regional director in Tikrit who’s job back home in Arkansas was to stack Wal-Mart shelves, while a reservist Navy captain software executive from California was assigned the task of booking meetings for a visiting Defense official. Fonow also charges that the so-called “fusion cell” or consensus approach exercised by the US military may be counter-productive in telecoms, retarding decision making and discouraging the civilian sector from standing on its own feet. Read more.
Mobixie was designed for mobile users to upload, download and share user-generated content such as games, videos and ringtones. But the students in Iraq have been scanning and posting thier valuable documents in Mobixie to safeguard them. Because the insurgents often kidnap the students and confiscate their passports along with personal documentation, issued by the new Iraqi government. Read more.
Iraq has sold three mobile phone licences for $3.75 billion to Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Co (MTC), AsiaCell and Iraq’s Korek Telecom. The three firms, which already run networks in the war-torn country, made the highest bids in an auction in the Jordanian capital that began on Thursday. TurkCell and Egypt’s Orascom had also bid for licences but dropped out of the race for one of the few sectors to thrive amid Iraq’s instability and crumbling infrastructure. The fixed-line network was hit by sanctions after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and by bombing during the U.
The Arab Advisors Group has devised “Cellular Competition Intensity Index” to rate and properly assess the intensity level of competition in the Arab World’s cellular markets.It has found Jordan maintains top rank followed by Iraq, which impressively jumped to the second rank. Meanwhile on the opposite extreme, Qatar -the last cellular monopoly market in the Arab World- naturally came last in the index. The index takes into account the number of operators, packages, and services available in each of the 19 countries covered by the Arab Advisors Group in this report, with each category assigned a certain weight according to its importance as an indicator of competitive behaviour. The categories include the following: Number of licensed and expected operators; number of working operators; market share of largest operator; number of current prepaid plans; number of current postpaid plans; availability of corporate offers; availability of 3G services; availability of operational ILD (International Long Distance) competition.
Iraq is an Asian country. While LIRNEasia is unable at this time to work in Iraq, our hearts are with the people of Iraq as they use ICTs to cope with the crazy murderousness of their world. A excerpt from today’s New York Times story: “Your call cannot be completed,” it says, “because the subscriber has been bombed or kidnapped.” Cellphones have long been considered status symbols in developing countries, Iraq included. But in an environment where hanging out is potentially life threatening, cellphones are also a window into dreams and terrors, the macabre local sense of humor and Iraqis’ resilience amid the swells of violence.
Arab Mobile Phone Subscriptions Jump 70% in 2005 Source: www.cellular-news.com/story/18589.php The number of mobile phone subscriptions in the Arab world has grown by a whopping 70 percent in 2005, underlining a strong consumer demand coupled by increased liberalization and competition in Arab telecom markets, according to a recently published Madar Research study. The study also reveals that Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have achieved mobile phone penetration levels among their population that are comparable with those prevalent in Europe and Pacific Rim countries.