Champions of Iraq

Iraq's operators face a tougher task than many of their counterparts in other Gulf countries

Tags: AsiaCell TelecommununicationsIraqMinistry of Communications - IraqPoliticsZain - Iraq
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By  Roger Field Published  November 10, 2009

When key players from Iraq's telecoms sector meet in London this week for the Iraq Telecoms event, they will have no shortage of discussion points.

In fact the event has become well known for its heated discussions, with delegates from the main telecom operators usually anxious to speak candidly about the many challenges they face, including a perceived lack of will on the part of the regulator and Ministry of Communications to help alleviate these problems.

Certainly, Iraq's operators face a tougher task than many of their counterparts in other Gulf countries, with the country's security situation alone a major headache in terms of staff safety, operating costs and quality of service.

The country's main GSM operators also complain bitterly about disruptions to services caused by military blocking devices. For the operators, the situation is made worse by what often appears to be a lack a real understanding from the government of the issues they face.

A prime example emerged when the three leading GSM operators, Zain, Asiacell and Korek were fined a total of $20 million this year for alleged poor quality of their network services. The fine failed to take into account the disruptions caused by the blocking devices and was also likely to be counterproductive, by taking hard earned cash away from the operators that could have been put to better use elsewhere.

There are also some serious concerns over the regulatory climate in Iraq's telecoms sector, with the regulator, known as the CMC, apparently stuck in limbo without any clear sense of direction, while the government's Ministry of Communications takes on more powers.

One of the problems with this is that the government also owns and runs the fixed line operations of ITPC, the country's incumbent fixed operation, leading to a conflict of interest.

Elsewhere, there are also growing concerns about the use of unlicenced teleports and VSat links, which raises serious security issues as well as potentially eating into the profits of the licenced operators.

But despite these challenges, it is easy to forget just how far Iraq's telecoms sector has come since 2003, when it had just one state-owned fixed line service, and no mobile operators. Today, Iraq is acknowledged as one of the Middle East's most competitive telecom markets.

In August, Iraq overtook Jordan to become the Arab world's most competitive mobile market, according to the Cellular Competition Intensity Index from Jordan-based Arab Advisors Group. Iraq gained 91%, the highest score out of the 19 countries in the survey, which assesses and ranks the level of competition in the region's cellular markets.

While Iraq's Ministry of Communications also comes in for its share of criticism, it should at least be congratulated for being open enough to attend events such as Iraq Telecoms, and for its genuine efforts to work with Iraq's private operators to help develop the industry.

Everyone involved in Iraq's telecoms sector is hoping that the open debate at Iraq Telecoms will help strengthen the industry and further improve the lives of the Iraqi people.

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