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.