Access to fast, reliable and affordable information and communication technologies (ICTs) can have a profound effect on a developing economy. The internet in particular provides small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with versatile, real-time interaction with new markets and customers both at home and abroad, as well as home consumers with access to new worlds of e-commerce, education and entertainment. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has highlighted its e-Government and connectivity aspirations at high-level international forums in recent years, citing the critical role both public and private entities – and partnerships between the two – can play in developing Kurdistan’s ICT and creating a strong, vibrant economy across the region. “The idea is to make Erbil a strategic hub for the region,” comments Kawa Junad, Chairman Allai Newroz Telecom.
After approaching the Iraqi Government in partnership with the KRG Prime Minister with plans to overhaul Kurdistan’s antiquated communications infrastructure, privately owned Newroz has been steadily building up the region’s ICT network. Iraq’s largest internet service provider and with the highest number of subscribers, Newroz got the green light in 2005 to start replacing Kurdistan’s copper-wired network from the late 1970s with high quality fibre-optic cabling.
Mr Junad points out that fibre-optic connections are still not yet available in nearby Iran, Kuwait or Jordan, so Kurdistan will be the first country in the area to bring fibre-optic connectivity to people’s homes, having already laid more than 1,500km of cabling. Newroz also plans to roll out 4G internet this year, ahead of even France and the UK. “This will change the reality of telecoms in the entire region,” he says, adding that the company aims to make high-speed, dependable internet access ubiquitous in Kurdistan.
“When we started, internet penetration in Iraq was zero, and in Kurdistan it was 1 per cent, but with our help the penetration rate increased,” says Mr Junad. “We now have 3 to 4 per cent penetration, but there is massive demand. We can easily get to 60 or 70 per cent penetration.”
In just a few years Newroz has rapidly become the region’s leading provider of national and long-distance landline telephone services, as well as high-speed broadband and fixed wireless network services. It has also launched a state-of-the-art wireless internet network using EVDO technology covering cities of Erbil, Duhok and Sulaimanya.
According to Mr Junad, in the early days, the focus was on ICT at the lowest possible prices, but now attention has shifted to quality – an attribute regarded as intrinsic in the operations of companies from the UK. “Now, people are looking for quality,” he says. “There is a huge opportunity for UK telecom companies to come and invest here. You will not find a better region than Kurdistan for investment right now.”
Newroz’s technological partners include Nokia, Siemens, Ericsson and Alcatel Lucent, and the company places importance on its collaborators holding a long-term vision for the region. “Alcatel Lucent were very keen to work in the Kurdistan region, because they have a long-term strategy for the region,” says Mr Junad. “We consider Alcatel Lucent not only as our vendors, but our partners as well, because they exchange ideas with us. We have a framework agreement with them for other projects and they are giving us advice, even if it is not included in the contract. If your partner develops, they will develop with you.”