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Research by Country/Region September 18, 2014  
Post-War Telecommunications Developments in Iraq

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Mobile Phone Services

Private Wireless Networks for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid

In May 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) awarded a contract to MCI to provide mobile phone services to U.S. civilian and military officials in Baghdad to support the reconstruction efforts and non-governmental organizations delivering humanitarian aid. The GSM network is capable of supporting 10,000 subscribers. Ericsson was reportedly chosen for the $34 million contract to install the wireless infrastructure for the mobile phone system in Baghdad. DOD also awarded Motorola a $15.8 million contract to build a radio communications system for Iraqi security and coalition forces in Baghdad.

In addition, Kuwait-based wireless operator MTC-Vodafone deployed a GSM-based network in southern Iraq also designed to support the reconstruction efforts and humanitarian aid organizations. MTC-Vodafone was granted authority by the Joint Communications Authority Board of Iraq and the Ministry of Defense of the United Kingdom to install and operate the GSM network. The network reportedly is providing coverage along supply routes in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, which is under the control of the British military.

The future of these systems after the new wireless licensees begin commercial service is unclear.

Wireless Distribution Center

On June 24, Tecore Wireless Systems (Columbia, MD) announced that it is setting up a distribution center in Iraq to deploy GSM mobile phone systems throughout the country. Tecore helped launch Afghanistan’s GSM wireless systems.

Commercial Wireless License Tender

On July 17, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) announced a competition for licenses for the provision of mobile telecommunications services in Iraq (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The Request For Proposals (RFP) was issued on July 28th, with proposals due August 21. The CPA held a conference in Amman, Jordan on July 31st to discuss the licensing process in more detail. The CPA announced the winners for three licences -- one each for northern, central and southern regions – on October 6. The three licenses, selected from over 100 bids, went to companies based in the Middle East with investors in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. The winner of the license for the central region, including Baghdad, was Orascom Telecom of Egypt. Motorola has announced that it will supply GSM base stations and transmission equipment for Orascom under a contract worth up to $40 million. Atheer, which is associated with the Mobile Telecommunications Co. (MTC) of Kuwait, was awarded the southern license. MTC has been providing mobile phone services to the British military and other humanitarian efforts in the southern region. Asia-Cell, which has been providing telephone services in some northern Kurdish governerates, will now expand across northern Iraq. All three plan to use European GSM technology in their respective regions. Each license will be for 24 months.
Licensing of Telecom Services in Iraq

On June 8, the CPA issued Order #11 (http://www.cpa-iraq.org), which gives the Ministry of Transportation and Communications responsibility for licensing all commercial telecommunications services in Iraq. No commercial telecommunications equipment may be installed or operated without prior written authorization from the Ministry, and any equipment used for commercial purposes without prior authorization is subject to seizure without compensation.

On July 23, Batelco Iraq, a new division of Bahrain Telecommunications, claimed to have 10,000 operational GSM lines in operation in Baghdad, and reportedly spent $5 million to set up the network. The CPA informed Batelco that under Order #11 it was not authorized to provide these services and had to cease operations. Batelco switched off the network and reportedly participated in the tender for three regional mobile licenses.

USAID-Sponsored Activities

On June 11, USAID received approval (with conditions) from Congress to augment its $680 million capital construction contract with Bechtel (awarded in April 2003) by an additional $50 million for emergency communications repair. U.S. forces targeted much of Iraq's communications network during the war because of the strategic interest. In addition, damage done by looters also needs to be repaired. This additional funding will be used to: 1) install and operate leased transportable switches and microwave transmission lines to connect twenty Iraqi cities with Baghdad, and provide up to 50,000 users access to emergency communications equipment; 2) provide telephone switches, fiber optic links, transmission equipment, and routers for the maintenance and recovery of wired telephone and internet systems at the Iraqi Post and Telegraph Company; and 3) conduct a technical damage assessment to develop a technical and management reconstruction plan for telecommunications in Iraq. Bechtel is rebuilding a 1,243 mile fiber optic "backbone" from Mosul in the north through Baghdad to Nasiriya and Umm Qasr in the south aimed at restoring intercity communications within Iraq. In addition, Bechtel is partially reconstituting the public switched network in Baghdad. The plan is to replace switches damaged during the war and restore 120,000 telephone lines not currently working (out of 280,000 ). Another goal is to install a satellite gateway that will enable about half of the country to make international calls. The gateway is expected to be operational in November, with service provided by Globecomm (U.S.) using a Lucent switch.

On August 25, Bechtel National and Lucent Technologies announced that Bechtel has awarded a $25 million subcontract to Lucent Technologies to carry out emergency repair and rehabilitation of the communications network in Iraq. This is the first major communications infrastructure subcontract Bechtel has awarded in Iraq. Prior to the conflict, approximately 1.1 million Iraqis subscribed to the Iraqi Telephone and Post Company (ITPC) for landline telephone service. Much of the communications network was centralized in Baghdad. In Baghdad, 240,000 out of 540,000 telephone lines are out of service. The Lucent subcontract is directed at restoring this service. Lucent will provide 13 central office switches, advanced optical transport technology and network management systems designed for voice and high-speed data transmissions.

Installation of the switches should be completed by January 2004, and the international gateway is expected to be operational in early November 2003.

Lucent and Bechtel will work with ITPC personnel and local Iraqi contractors to install and deploy the switching units to bring the 240,000 lines back into service within ITPC's network serving Baghdad and the region around it. Bechtel estimates that as much as 80 percent of the actual deployment work will be done by Iraqi workers and engineers. In addition to rebuilding the network, Lucent will establish an aggressive program to train Iraqi personnel to enable the transition of the operations of the network to ITPC.

Satellite Services

Since the outbreak of the war, mobile satellite services have provided the main international communications links for Iraq.

Iridium Approved to Provide Mobile Satellite Services in Iraq

On July 22, Iridium was authorized by the CPA and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to provide and sell mobile satellite communications services, subscriber terminals and related equipment in Iraq. Mobile satellite services were used by the Department of Defense and by journalists during the Iraq war to transmit text and images from the front lines. Since the conclusion of fighting, mobile satellite services have been used to provide communications support to military personnel and relief workers. Satellite operators such as UAE-based Thuraya, UK-based Inmarsat, US-based Globalstar and Iridium have all played a role in providing communications in Iraq. Some civilians have also been using the technology to place international calls, although widespread use is limited by the high cost of the phones (about $800).

Thuraya to Provide Payphone Network in Rural Iraq

In late June, mobile satellite operator Thuraya launched its satellite-based payphone service in Iraq. The UAE-based operator is rolling out a network of around 400 “public calling offices” (PCOs) in rural parts of the country. The payphone service will allow people to make international calls for rates ranging between $0.40 and $0.80 per minute. Mobile satellite services have provided the main communications links for Iraq since the outbreak of the war. Military personnel and aid agencies have depended on the technology in the absence of sufficient terrestrial networks, while Iraqis themselves have been relying on the services to call friends and relatives outside of Iraq. According to Thuraya, Iraq now accounts for 20 percent of its users. Although it is expected that sales of mobile satellite terminals (which cost about $800) will subside as the terrestrial wireless networks are rolled out later this year, Thuraya hopes that its payphone service will continue to serve remote and rural areas where terrestrial wireless services may not be available.


Other U.S. Company Involvement

U.S. Firm Provides Connectivity In Baghdad

On July 24, 2003, U.S.-based Voex reported that it has provided the Iraqis an uncensored, accessible connection to access any place around the globe. The company, which provides internet telephony services, has established three communications centers in Baghdad to offer residents affordable telephone, facsimile, e-mail and internet services. Voex is working with Cisco and a local partner. Calls are being routed by Cisco to and from Iraq via the Internet to PCs, IP phones and fax machines in customer access centers.

Prepared by: Linda Astor, ITA/Office of Telecommunications Technologies

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