Exchange of gifts with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

Baghdad Day 2 And Photos

Very full day today meeting with government of Iraq officials and Embassy/US Military/State Department people.

Getting a good sense as to the unique challenges that this country faces. A few things that jumped out re: mobile & connectivity:
- Desperate need to improve internet connectivity. Right now about 5% of Iraq has internet access at home, but a larger (unknown) percentage get online at Internet cafes.

- Cell usage is nearly universal here — everyone has a mobile phone.. Coverage is currently not as reliable as it could be, and is getting overloaded with the huge surge in usage. There are 3 networks running through the country including AsiaCell and Zain which is Kuwaiti. This creates a bit of a comical situational where many people carry at least 2 phones with them from different providers to make sure they can conduct business regardless of where they are.

- There is also a ton of SMS usage here which is encouraging as it may provide an alternative means of interacting with certain services as Iraqis wait for internet broadband develops. In theory if you project out a few years iPhone/smartphone type of devices could become common and you could see a leapfrogging or simple a different web behavior where it’s predominantly mobile and not laptop/desktop based — as you do in places like Japan.

- Fiber projects are underway to improve the internet connectivity challenges, but these efforts have been hampered by legacy systems which were not in good shape, and security requirements / sabotage missions which disrupt the work. The optimistic projections are for Iraq to be at around 60% broadband penetration in about 18-24 months if things go according to plan.

- Very clear that on the Embassy, State Dept, and US Military side we have outstanding people working here who know what they are doing and really do give up a lot to work here — including being away from families, and a pretty restrictive night life ! The Embassy itself is quite amazing overall as well.

More to come …and a few photos from the day on Flickr.

13 thoughts on “Baghdad Day 2 And Photos”

  1. Hi there, very excited about you guys being in Baghdad. Hopefully you can shake things up here and get someone, anyone, interested in social media and the web.

    regarding internet penetration. a recent ABC/BBC/NHK poll suggested that it’s around the 16%, still low but not as low as 5% I hope. And Cell phones were put around 98%.

    What I really hope will happen is that the cell phone companies realise that more people can access the web through their phones than thru computers and make going online via cell phone easier and more affordable. At the moment service is spotty in general. Annoyingly I was able to update my Twitter status via cell phone for about 4 weeks when I first set up my account and then AsiaCell stopped forwarding my updates and I’m back to web updates.

    Anyway, just thought I should say welcome to Baghdad. Looking forward to what your visit here can achieve.

    Salam Pax

  2. Hope you can get out a little. At least try the Freedom Restaurant across from the Embassy.

    One problem is that internet access in Iraq is often through rather expensive VSAT terminals either at internet cafes or through neighborhood subscription services. There are no economies of scale for bandwidth, like DSL-type services.

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