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Iraqi Kurdistan — the 4Gotten state no more

Stephen Bond | July 9, 2013
Erbil, or Hewler to the local population, is also the base of Regional Telecom (RT), a group providing communications services which has readied Iraq's first 4G LTE network under their FastLink brand.

RT, while already a cluster of brands, is now running in two distinct divisions, the CEO told CNME; one for its own subscribers, and another focused solely on integrating government services onto the network. Despite such close ties, none of the CAPEX has come from the KRG. The "partnership" is merely a matter of provision, Junad claimed.

"We are also in discussion with the Ministry of Electricity, which wants to use our network to control smart meters to monitor utilities," he added. "Until now, it simply relied on GPS, but has come to us to switch to LTE. So many ministries, focused on many sectors, will come to us for benefits — not only our existing subscribers."

Smartphones and networks — chickens and eggs
With a lack of a 3G network and patchy ADSL offerings, high demand for LTE in Iraqi Kurdistan is a no-brainer. As a telecom leader in the region, RT is even better positioned to gauge the extent of the readiness of the public to adopt 4G-enabled devices.

"We have an accurate understanding of the demand," Junad explained. "We've been in this business for nine years, as a wholesale provider for 90 percent of the companies here, through Newroz.

"There's also a penetration rate of almost 75 percent, so we know the market very well. Demand has never been the problem — only services."

People are already buying LTE devices, Junad claimed. Around 85 percent of mobile devices being bought in Kurdistan are smartphones and, while many of these will not be LTE-ready, RT has readied portable SIM-loaded 4G modems for up to five users at a time.

This is the real potential coup for RT — even with lower-grade smartphones, users will have connectivity on the go. Handily monikered as "My-Fi", the device is no bigger than an old-school Nokia handset.

"The My-Fi will be a pocket modem with charge for up to eight hours, supporting 3G and 4G — as long as your device supports Wi-Fi," Janad said. "You don't need to change your phone or provider, just connect through the Wi-Fi that's in your pocket.

"Once we have connected all of Iraqi Kurdistan, then we will move forward. We're about to be operational and we will have blanket coverage in eight to 10 months — maximum one year. We are already planning, with discussions going on, and I think we will move into other parts of Iraq soon."

RT's priority is to cover all of Kurdistan and be the first company in the region to connect rural areas, as well cities, with 4G, Junad claimed. "Even the UAE announced they have 4G, but I couldn't even get a connection in the Palm Jumeirah," he joked.

RT has positioned itself for what it calls a "slow launch" with very limited advertising, but Junad is convinced that word of mouth and the keenness of Kurdistan's populous will beat the sales inertia.


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