Inside Iraq

Remote networks in Iraq have all the normal problems, but are also fraught with danger. NME talks to Mohammed Omed Ali about the challenges of deploying remote wireless sites.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  September 3, 2006

|~|omed200.jpg|~|“People in Iraq cannot reach the technology very easily – they don’t know what’s going on outside, just as many people in the rest of the world don’t know what’s going on inside.” Mohammed Omed Ali, CEO, Impulse.|~|If you had to pick a nightmare scenario for deploying technology, Iraq would probably be it. Aside from the naturally-adverse conditions – arid environments, sparse populations, challenging topography – the current political and security situation in the country makes any major undertaking difficult. Mohammed Omed Ali, CEO of United Consultants and Impulse, has worked in Iraq on remote access projects for a number of years. A native Iraqi, he has had to leave the country for Jordan, due to the instability there – he is now working to establish his business throughout the region, including the UAE. “People in Iraq cannot reach the technology very easily – they don’t know what’s going on outside, just as many people in the rest of the world don’t know what’s going on inside,” says Ali. “Technically, we are going down – this is one of the most important problems. Getting visas to go to an exhibition in the United States, this is not easy for Iraqis. Even in Arab countries, sometimes, it is hard. And no one can come into Iraq either.” Ali makes no apology for being pessimistic about the future of the country. He says that any technically able people, especially English speakers, leave Iraq as soon as they can – they can make more money, in a safer environment elsewhere, so they have little reason to stay. At the same time, vendors are unable and unwilling to send trained personnel to assist with implementations in Iraq. This is a key issue, according to Ali, because of the lack of options for Iraqis to communicate with the outside world. The internet is a vital link for both business and personal reasons – and, in the absence of any meaningful communications infrastructure, the only way to access it is via satellite link. “We have two ways of connection to the internet in Iraq: through the government ISP; and VSAT,” he says. “No one uses the government system, because it is very slow and doesn’t work well. So many people turn to VSAT, which is what we specialise in. “Internet cafes use VSAT systems – they supply internet in the café, then they distribute it over a wider area using wireless systems. They put a tower on the roof for the wireless transmitter, then supply CP (customer premesis) equipment to their customers.” Wireless networks are in use around the world, but Ali says there are two major problems with running them in Iraq: power, and interference. The absence of any real infrastructure in the country, including a power grid, forces people to use individual electricity sources – mainly generators. Ali says: “Most of the generators there are Chinese-made, and even the best generators in the world are not designed to work for more than three to six hours a day, and not every day. So they can’t handle the loads, and every six months we have to replace the generators – this is a big expense. “In addition to that, fuel causes a lot of problems. It’s very expensive – before the war, it cost $2 to fill your car; now you have to pay $40-$50 for a tank of petrol.” The fuel situation may start to change as Iraq’s refining capacity comes back on stream, but corruption at all levels of the government will continue to hamper regular supplies to the domestic market. The issues around interference stem from the lack of regulation in the country. At the moment, individuals and organisations are free to use any equipment, at any power they desire. In areas such as Baghdad, where wireless sites are much more widespread, the resulting spectrum pollution can be problematic. “Just after the war, you could put up a tower, and it would go a long way, cover a wide area – there was no interference,” explains Ali. “But now there is a great deal. In most countries, you are not allowed to use more than 1W power; we can use up to 4W power easily in Iraq. “Before you could cover up to 10km with cheap equipment – now you have to pay more for the higher powered systems, use a higher-gain antenna. Wi-Fi now doesn’t cover more than 2km with 1W power, and in some areas you cannot even get up to 2km using 4W power.” To get around this problem, Ali and his company have made use of alternative technologies to standard 2.4GHz equipment. Much of this has come from US-based Wireless Interactive, in the form of 900MHz bridging equipment, which can carry a signal a long distance before handing it off to a shorter-range 2.4GHz transmitter. Michael D Avramidis, president of Wireless Interactive, explains: “Using 2.4GHz in a backhaul situation may have worked in Iraq two years ago, but today, there is such an abundance of 2.4GHz products that it makes the link unreliable. So therefore, we developed the Orion-900, at 900MHz. In development is another radio which will operate at 400 MHz, for longer distance links.” Ali is enthusiastic about the support Impulse has received from Wireless Interactive and Avramidis: “He is spending money to develop something for Iraq – this is not common. He is always developing products to help Iraq, and of course this also helps him and Wireless Interactive develop, so it works both ways. “We need companies like Wireless Interactive to help rebuild Iraq. We have money, we have manpower, we have a lot of other resources; so there is a chance to do something special in Iraq. When you see Iraq on the map, it is in the middle, between Europe and Asia – it is the heart of the region. It can be a hub for the world – but not yet.”||**||

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