Iraq seeks to revive fixed line revenues

The repair of several of Baghdad's exchanges has been completed, while Iraq Telecom has ordered a billing platform for its landline services

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By  Richard Agnew Published  March 28, 2004

|~|iraq1.gif|~|Omar Barzanji, president of Technology Partners.|~|Iraq Telecom (ITPC) has taken a step towards commercial reality with the award of a US$10 million contract for the supply of a billing platform for its landline network. A consortium of companies led by Dubai-based telecoms consultancy, Technology Partners, will implement the system, designed to connect ITPC’s 250 exchange sites and allow the operator to begin functioning as a commercial entity. Targeted to be complete by the end of 2004, the move will allow the ITPC to start billing for services automatically, supporting ongoing efforts to repair Iraq’s battered telecoms infrastructure and expand the operator’s fixed subscriber base to five million. “If the ITPC is going to be a profitable corporation, then it is going to need to charge for services,” says Omar Barzanji, president of Technology Partners. “It has employees to pay, infrastructure to upgrade, and can’t continue to rely on donations. This is what we are hoping to achieve with the billing platform,” he adds. The project will see various vendors supplying equipment, including Sun and Cisco, which will supply servers and routers respectively. New Zealand-based provider, Argent Networks, will contribute an integrated mediation, customer care and billing platform. Lucent will supply systems integration and professional services, focusing on interfacing the platform to ITPC’s fixed network, which the US-based vendor was contracted to repair last year. The consortium will also equip each of Iraq’s 250 telephone exchanges with PC workstations and trained customer relationship (CRM) operators, linked through to the central server farm in Baghdad, and handle CRM, billing, network services, fault reporting and engineering resource management. Previously, ITPC had gathered billing information manually. “The old system was originally installed in the 1980s,” explains Barzanji. “Billing information was downloaded to disk in each exchange site and sent to the computer centre in Baghdad, where bills were printed and sent out,” he adds. The move will see the ITPC adopting a post-paid billing model for fixed services, although the system can support pre-paid cards. The platform architecture is also designed with an upgrade path to a full Next Gen Operational Support platform (NGOSS). “The billing platform is capable of carrying tens of millions of subscribers, but initially we are contracted out for three million subscribers,” adds Barzanji. Despite claims that demand for mobile services will render the landline infrastructure in Iraq irrelevant, vast sums are being spent on the reconstruction of the country’s fixed network. It is estimated that the programme could provide vendors with up to US$200 million worth of business. Currently, the ITPC has one million subscribers but is aiming for a five million-strong user base within the next five years. “The GSM providers are promoting the idea that you don’t need the fixed line network anymore, but in reality this is not true,” says Barzanji. “There is a lot of emphasis being placed on the fixed network. In Iraq, tele-density [is around 3%] and hasn’t improved since the 1970’s. [The network] requires hundreds of millions of dollars of repairs and upgrades,” he adds. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) announced in February that a US$45 million project awarded to Lucent following the war had been completed, bringing thirteen damaged exchanges in Baghdad and surrounding areas back into service. The project saw 260,000 of the ITPC’s lines replaced, and the operator is now in the process of re-connecting subscribers. After signing a consultancy agreement with Lucent last year, Technology Partners was sub-contracted to supply specialist shelters to house the exchange equipment. In addition, various projects are believed to be in the pipeline to further extend Iraq’s fixed infrastructure. ITPC is expected to shortly announcing a contract to upgrade its internet platform. Technology Partners is also currently working on the installation of an earth station to provide voice communications to and from Iraq and Arabsat member countries. “Right now, we are in the process of commencing the supply of the equipment,” says Barzanji. And with wireless technologies expected to play a significant role in linking up subscribers in rural areas, the consultancy has also extended its partnership with Lucent to promote the vendor’s CDMA wireless local loop (WLL) technology in Iraq. Several vendors from other countries are also believed to have donated wireless systems to the ITPC to be used in trial networks. “Wireless local loop technologies are of extreme interest right now for ITPC,” adds Barzanji. ||**||

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