|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 1999|
|Topic:||Internet for All, Managing Internet Growth in Egypt|
|Title:||Manager of Communication and Networking|
|Organisation:||Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC)|
The full Internet services started in Egypt in October 1993 via a 9.6K link between the Egyptian Universities Network (EUN) and France carrying the Bitnet as well as the Internet traffic. The user community was estimated to about 2000 users. It was preceded by several initiatives for partial connectivity by the public and private sectors. The following section will describe the structure of the Internet Universe in Egypt. Fig. 1 illustrates this universe with all its components: the basic infrastructure, the gateways, the ISPs as well as the various users.
Introduction Egypt Telecom has an ambitious program for the upgrade of the data communication infrastructure facilities in Egypt. It has started in co-operation with IDSC to deploy a set of digital multiplexors as the first digital backbone in the country for Internet services. The international connectivity to and from Egypt is provided via satellite links using Intelsat and fibre connectivity using SEMEWE-2 to Europe and via TAT-12/13 to USA and it provides the country with sufficient bandwidth to the rest of the world. The remote areas are provided with data communication services via VSAT terminals with hub based and hubless communication. IDSC has established a number of terminals in Aswan, Qena, Sohag and Assiut to provide for the first time full Internet connectivity for the public community in the remote areas. Egypt now has several gateways to the Internet as illustrated in Fig. 2: The first gateway is at IDSC/RITSEC with 4Mb/sec links to the USA backbone. IDSC/RITSECalso has a 2 Mbps dedicated asymmetric link (bursting to 4 Mbps) to provide incoming Internet. This gateway serves the governmental sector as well as providing Internet connectivity to about 51 ISPs. The overall capacity is being upgraded to 14 Mbps. Three gateways at EUN, the American University and Enstinet, they serve all twelve Egyptian Universities as well as the research institutes connected to ENSTINET. They also provide connectivity to an ambitious project to connect hundreds of secondary schools to the Internet. The gateways have a fibre link to France with 4 Mb/s each and they will soon be upgraded to respond to the evolving potential in the academic and educational sectors. Two additional gateways provide connectivity to four private sectors ISPs with around 3 Mb/sec connectivity to the American and the US backbones. Other ISPs are also investigating the establishment of their own gateways to the Internet. IDSC/RITSEC is working as the Internet Exchange between the educational gateways and the commercial gateways. Internet Users in Egypt are considered as a major component of the Internet universe. The total number of users had reached more than 150,000 by April 1999. Users are estimated to be distributed between educational, governmental and individuals as well as private sector corporations as 35,000, 27,000, and 87, 000 respectively. The Internet Service Providers focus mainly on providing the services to the private sector as well as to the individuals. ISPs have already started to provide their services outside Cairo to 18 other major cities and governorates in: Hurgada, Alexandria and Sharm El Sheikh, Monofia, Mansoura, Port Said, Gharbia, Fayoum, Menia, Sohag, Quena, Luxor, Aswan, Suez, Damieta, Ismailia, Tanta, Beni-Suif and Assiut The Internet in Egypt: National and Regional Challenges and Opportunities In 1994, IDSC decided to raise awareness about the Internet services in the commercial community and provided free accounts for Egyptian corporations. This was done with the financial support of the Egyptian government to open the country to the rest of the world. This step has educated the market and has shown the advantages of the Internet services to the public community. The basic foundation for starting a strong commercial Internet community in the country where set: Market awareness and potential, limited but sufficient infrastructure deployment as well as a general policy and approach to open the country and to liberalise its value added information services. The government represented by IDSC and Egypt Telecom began an initiative for the development of an Internet backbone and gateway facility with reasonable prices to be used by the private sector ISPs through the high-speed gateway at IDSC. The catalytic role of the government will continue to support the newly established ISP in remote areas to establish a strong industry for value added information services with large geographical coverage and to promote the tourism, the culture and the various economic activities in Egypt as a base for socio-economic development. The Internet commercialisation in Egypt has opened various national and regional opportunities for the networked society and has generated new challenges as well. Opportunities The following points highlight the major national and regional opportunities attached with the Internet commercialisation in Egypt: The Internet commercialisation is a new model for the co-operation between the public and private sectors in the telecommunication sector. The government has played a catalytic role in raising the awareness as well as the deployment of the infrastructure, while the private sector carries the value-added services to the end users. More than 55 private sector Internet Service Providers have been established in Egypt until now, which has created a new industry with new jobs and venture opportunities in the country. In order to mobilise and empower the development of the Egyptian information content on the Internet, IDSC and RITSEC have jointly launched Egypts Information Highway Project, which is a pilot project that aims at supporting Egypts socio-economic growth. (URLhttp://www.idsc.gov.eg/). The implementation of the project involved co-operation and co-ordination with other national initiatives, as well as establishing partnerships with government and private sector entities. Since the launch of the project late in 1995, several pilot information networks have been launched covering culture, tourism, healthcare, environment, education, public services, and governorates. The success of the government/private sector partnership in the commercialisation of the Internet Services will push the deregulation process of other value-added services as well as communication services in the country. The communication infrastructure deployment is one of the promising areas for private sector participation. A new opportunity for the co-operation on a regional level in the area of Internet connectivity has come up. RITSEC has taken an initiative in that aspect and has established, in co-operation with various other regional organisations, the Regional Arab Information Technology Network (Raitnet) as a base for the regional co-operation. Challenges In spite of the big growth the Egyptian Internet community is still faced with a number of national and regional challenges in various areas: The development and promotion of the multilingual (Arabic/English….) access for the various Internet services is one of the major technical and marketing challenges. It will give the Internet services a new dimension of penetration in new geographical areas and new evolving areas of applications like education and trade services. The wide scale and up-to-date infrastructure deployment is also one of the major challenges. The priorities of the government is to focus on the deployment of basic telephony service to reach a high teledensity. High speed integrated networks are put on the agenda but not yet implemented. The build up of the Egyptian Internet with its Infrastructure and servers in different disciplines is one of the major challenges we will face. The content build-up has always been considered as one of the exclusive roles of the governmental organisations. The evolving private sector ISP participation in Web development and hosting, introduces new challenges for the private sector with new responsibilities for the validation and security of the contents. The initiative of Egypts information highway is extending its arms for further co-operation with the private sector. The security of the Internet and Intranet is also considered as one of the decisive issues that will affect the growth of the Internet in the country. The Egyptian society, although being an evolving economy, has its own conservative traditions. The Internet society is challenged with the assignment to find out an acceptable model to reduce the access of pornography to the community. The Internet commercialisation is a first step towards the privatisation and deregulation of communication services in the country. It has been implemented for the first time in this sector in Egypt in a government/private sector partnership and co-operation. The success and maturity of this model from technical as well as from business, social and regulatory aspects will directly imply further deregulation of other basic and value added services in that sector in Egypt. The regulatory framework for this participation is currently worked out for private GSM services and should be extended to data communication and Internet backbone services as well. Conclusion To conclude, it is clear that Egypts newly established Internet community and society has revolutionised a lot of concepts in an African and Arab country. New challenges for the public and private sectors as well as for the government and individuals has been put and should be tackled in a new way of thinking with decentralisation and deregulation. New national and regional opportunities are being opened for the country with the creation of jobs and investment ventures in the value added services as well as in the content building.