After the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. government, the market for wireless and broadband communications opened considerably and those changes are still taking place. The Kurdish region, however, was freed from Saddam’s grip 10 years prior, and has been successfully managing its own telecom sector during that time, reported Reuters today.
Mobile phones were first introduced in 1999 when AsiaCell opened its doors as the first phone company in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya. The company now has a customer base of 8.5 million users throughout Iraq.
While service is still patchy in more remote areas, the Kurdish telecoms industry has had longer to mature, and can largely avoid problems such as military jamming of signals (to prevent mobile phones being used to detonate bombs) as the area has been free from conflict since 1992, unlike the rest of the country.
“The situation of telecommunications is very good in Kurdistan,” said Hameed Akrawi, VP of Korek Telecom, a mobile phone firm established in Arbil in 2001 and owned by a nephew of Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani. “We have more experience than the rest of Iraq, because we had freedom (earlier).”
In the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil, which slick smart shopping malls and Western-style coffee shops, citizens and visitors are able to use Mobitel’s 3G mobile phones and connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi.
All three firms – Korek, AsiaCell and Mobitel – secured $1.25 billion licenses each to operate in Iraq in 2007.
However, as in the rest of Iraq, companies operating in the Kurdish region also complain about a monopoly over fiber optic cables. Allai Newroz Telecom, which introduced a fiber optic network to the Kurdish area in 2009, has a four-year renewable contract with the Kurdistan Regional Government and provides services in Arbil, Sulaimaniya and Dahuk. Allai Newroz, however, experiences continuous network overloads: a network designed to support 1,500 users actually supports about 6,000, the company’s public relations director told Reuters.
Iraqi telecom companies have blamed a lack of cooperation between Iraq’s telecoms regulator, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) and the Kurdish authorities for a lack of progress.
“The lack of fast broadband Internet has hindered Iraq’s economic progress,” Diar Ahmed, chief executive of AsiaCell told Reuters. “CMC has no say here (in Kurdistan) ... There is chaos in the telecoms field in Iraq,” he said.
Despite the fact that networks are faster in Kurdistan than the rest of Iraq, many people still complain that they are not fast enough for modern Web browsing. One student, 21-year-old Meran Mubarak, complained to Reuters that the slower speeds aren’t meeting his needs.
“The Internet doesn’t download fast enough. But I can still open e-mails and use Facebook,” said Mubarak.
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