Experts: Iraq will need telecom, IT services soon

Two telecommunications experts see much opportunity for IT and telecom companies wanting to help rebuild Iraq after the US war there, but it could take months or even years before the country is ready for IT infrastructure improvements.

          Two telecommunications experts see much opportunity for IT and telecom companies wanting to help rebuild Iraq after the US war there, but it could take months or even years before the country is ready for IT infrastructure improvements.

          Kenneth Camp, managing director of KDC Architects Engineers, says he believes IT and telecom infrastructure in Iraq could be built up in one or two years, with work beginning in a matter of months, but French Caldwell, a vice president at technology analyst Gartner, believes a fully-fledged IT infrastructure in Iraq could take up to five years to put in place.

          Camp sees some opportunity in Iraq, both for telecommunications vendors and for the Iraqi people.

          "Once everything calms down over there, it could be an interesting set of priorities," he says. "Once everything is done, they're going to have a first-rate communications system, built from the ground up."

          As of now, the US Agency for International Development, which is heading US government rebuilding efforts, hasn't issued any requests for proposals for IT-related projects in Iraq. Between January 31 and March 4, the agency issued eight requests for proposals, for projects such as road and port repair, seaport and airport administration, public health and education. An agency spokeswoman says IT-related projects may still be on the way.

          Both Camp and Caldwell agree that technology-related services will have to take a back seat to more basic services, like water and electricity, for the moment.

          "There's a few other things that need to be done first," Caldwell says of IT rebuilding efforts in Iraq. "Before everyone has a cellphone, we should make sure they have water and sanitation first."

          One of the challenges in Iraq will be getting people back to work after they've fled the war-torn areas, Caldwell says.

          But relief efforts will need satellite or cell phone service, he says, and that can happen fairly quickly. Caldwell predicted that cellphone service to the mass population could take a year to happen in Iraq, with high-speed communication taking two years, and a full-fledged IT infrastructure up to five years. Peer-to-peer networks, with computer users replicating their information on each other's hard drives, could fill the networking void until high-speed networks are erected.

          "It could happen over the next couple of years," he says of an IT infrastructure in Iraq. "It depends on the emphasis in terms of money."

          But Camp, who spent six weeks in Kuwait as a consultant helping to rebuild its telecom infrastructure a year after the end of the 1990-91 Gulf War, believes that much of Iraq's IT infrastructure can be built back up within a year or two. His company helped design a "self-healing" telecommunications network that automatically rerouted if lines were cut.

          The Iraq rebuilding situation will be similar to Kuwait's "but [on] a much larger scale," Camp says. "The design is not that far off," he says of the telecom infrastructure in Iraq. "As soon as it's safe to be there, I think the design will start."

          Camp sees land-line telecom services coming online in bits and pieces, with each Iraqi city bringing up their networks on an exchange-by-exchange basis. A national telecommunications backbone may also need to be rebuilt, he says. Most of this work could be completed in six months to a year, Camp estimated, with the whole land-line communications system in Iraq built in two years.

          Cellular phone service could also be up and running in major Iraqi cities in six months to a year, Camp says, while smaller towns and rural areas will have to wait longer for cell phone service.

          "In the US, as well as many other countries around the world, we have developed very good capabilities and methodologies for approaching this type of project," he says.

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