|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2008|
|Topic:||From Kemet to Egypt|
Emad Elazhary is the Managing Director of TE Data, Telecom Egypt’s new Data Operator subsidiary. Mr Elazhary also serves as the Vice Chairman of this newly formed company, which he started up. It now also operates in Jordan, the Gulf, and Palestine. He managed Telecom Egypt’s (Egypt’s incumbent operator) start-up fixed line operation for inter-urban and international services in Algeria. Prior to that, Mr Elazhary consulted for Telecom Egypt and the Egyptian National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) where he participated in defining and setting the regulatory framework and the licensing regime for ISPs and Data Operators in Egypt. Mr Elazhary co-founded InTouch Communications Services, the first ISP in Egypt. Orascom Telecom later acquired InTouch. Previously, Mr Elazhary worked for IBM WTC as a Systems Engineer. Mr Elazhary earned his degree in Computer Science, with a minor in Electronics, from the American University in Cairo.
Egypt’s geographical location has, since ancient times, given it a strategic importance in the region. Today, in the era of the Internet, Egypt is expanding its national and international communications systems to take advantage of its historical strategic advantage. Its centrally located networks linking Africa and Europe, and its technically and linguistically skilled workforce, facilitate Egypt’s efforts to become a prime outsourcing provider in the region. The government is energetically fostering broadband growth and usage at all levels of the population.
‘Kemet’ is the native word for Ancient Egypt. One of the determining factors in its fabled history – its geographical location – could also hold the key to its future. Egypt is bordered by Libya to the west, Sudan to the south, and by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the east. Egypt’s importance in geopolitics stems from its strategic position; it is a transcontinental nation, it possesses a land bridge (the Isthmus of Suez) between Africa and Asia, which in turn is traversed by a navigable waterway (the Suez Canal) that connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. Its location in both Northeastern Africa and Southwestern Asia gives Egypt an important role that mandates responsibilities in the emerging era of the Internet and the dramatic changes that are sure to ensue. The history of the Internet in Egypt started back in the late 1980s when it was limited to use by the staff at universities. Then in the early 1990s, some commercial entities offered limited Internet services such as email that was accessed through dialup connections at speeds of 3.6Kbps. In the mid-1990s, the first commercial dialup Internet was launched as a niche product targeting businesses and the elite. In 2001, the government wanted to push the penetration rate of dialup Internet further, so it introduced the first free Internet dialup initiative in the world. By this model, an Internet user could dial into the Internet without needing a subscription, which was believed to be a barrier to entry for many potential users. The Internet user only paid the rate for a ‘normal’ phone call. Then in 2002, Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) was introduced. There were relatively few users then, it was believed, due, once again, to high pricing. So again, the government gave it a push by introducing three new initiatives. The first two initiatives consisted of major price cuts combined with discounts granted to service providers. The third measure, a different concept, established a new ‘capped’ ADSL service where a given bandwidth quota is linked to a monthly subscription; this brought about a major price reduction and made it possible for a broader segment of the population to try the service and adopt it. Telecom Egypt, the country’s sole fixed line operator, as part of its initiative to help ADSL gain momentum, started providing three months of ADSL service as a trial with new phone lines. Because of this, bandwidth demand has grown dramatically, exponentially and not linearly, since the trial service plan began in 2002. There are several factors to consider, having to do with developing the market and helping it grow in the right direction – especially in terms of long-term progress in reaching out and encouraging broadband adoption by different sectors. Perhaps the most important market is the individual – both for personal and business use. The availability of Internet cafes and WiFi connections in most outdoor venues, along with the free-fall drop of laptop prices, PDAs and WiFi enabled mobile devices have helped encourage the adoption of Internet by individuals. The launch of electronic government (e-Government) services has helped Egyptian citizens obtain government services. This has, for example, reduced the bureaucracy needed to obtain driving licenses, car licenses, national IDs, etc and has helped popularise the Internet, causing the number of Internet users to grow. Internet usage is growing and spreading to all levels of the population and increasingly integrating itself in both the business environment and the daily lives of the population. There is a huge potential for Internet in Egypt bearing in mind the gap between the number of households with phone lines and PCs – and that of users who actually access the Internet. Residential Internet access has to be further developed; focused governmental initiatives can boost such access dramatically. The government initiated the Egypt PC 2010 – ‘Nation Online’ project to increase the number of PCs and laptops in homes and offices from seven per cent to 30-35 per cent by year-end 2010. The Internet that we all access and use today is a collective utility that gains exponentially in value with the inclusion of more users; the progress in one region, or by one group, can only serve the rest. The gap between Internet access for those with low income and in rural areas as opposed to high income is very wide, and is especially significant if we remember that the non-inclusion of some groups diminishes the value of the Internet for all. The differences in Internet access between regions, between countries and socio-economic groups are of equal importance to us all and we need global initiatives to bridge these gaps and monitor the results. On a country level, it remains to identify and address the needs in each and every area to attain the social and economic results sought. To keep up with the growth of the technology, we need a global effort that addresses the critical areas of the Internet at large. Sporadic efforts can only widen the gap and create new kinds of gaps, so every strategic country has a role to unite their efforts with others so all head in the same direction. Egypt’s strategic geographic location mandated the long-term plan for building an Internet infrastructure: it is currently underway. A license has been granted to build a marine fibre-optic cable, named TE North, connecting Egypt to Marseille, France and there are other licenses in place, as well, for other planned cables. The infrastructure is built to meet not only the growing bandwidth demands of the local market, but serves the international market as well. As a regional hub, Egypt is becoming recognised, certified and awarded for the support it gives such emerging user categories as Outsourcing Service Providers (OSP). To be competitive, OSPs need a high-quality telecommunications infrastructure, competitive labour costs, professionals with first-rate language and technical skills. In addition to all these, Egypt is only one time zone later than most of Western Europe, which makes coordinating schedules much easier. Because the river Nile flows the length of the country, boats and ships were the most important means of trade, communications and transportation in Egypt from ancient times to the current era. Alexandria was a great port and its ships brought goods from Ethiopia, India, China, and all the ports of the Mediterranean. In the Fatimid era (years 969-1171) Egypt was one of the world’s most powerful naval countries. Today, when trade and communications flow through the Internet, Egypt is striving to ensure that it continues its ancient tradition through leadership in the Internet-based global economy.