[Dewayne-Net] Iraq Wireless

Dewayne Hendricks dewayne at warpspeed.com
Thu Jul 21 07:09:49 PDT 2005

[Note:  This item comes from reader Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

>From: Mike Cheponis <mac at Wireless.Com>
>Date: July 21, 2005 12:05:53 AM PDT
>To: Dewayne Hendricks <dewayne at warpspeed.com>
>Subject: iraq wireless
>WSJ excerpt:
>`Wireless technology has made insurgent groups much more effective.
>For example, a mortar-firing team miles away from its target can
>adjust its aim via cellphone contact with a spotter, who can see
>exactly where mortar shells have landed.'
>Iraq's Cellphone Battle Service Provider Iraqna Tries To Meet
>Demand Despite Long Outages, Insurgent Use
>BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A video sold in Baghdad market stalls these days
>shows young insurgents firing a series of mortars and calling for
>the American infidels to be expelled. To adjust their aim, the
>militants rely on a gadget that owes its appearance in Iraq to the
>2003 U.S. invasion -- the cellphone.
>Saddam Hussein outlawed cellphones, determined to maintain an iron
>grip on his subjects. But as Iraq catches up with the world's
>information revolution, cellphones have become as commonplace here
>as they are almost everywhere else in the world. Now, they are
>increasingly being used as battle tools -- to set off bombs from
>afar, to target fire and to provide insurgents with instant
>Caught in the middle of the conflict raging between the insurgents
>and U.S. and Iraqi forces is the company responsible for bringing
>commercial mobile-phone service to Baghdad: Iraqna. With its catchy
>yellow Q emblazoned on hundreds of Baghdad storefronts, Iraqna, a
>unit of Egyptian communications conglomerate Orascom Telecom
>Holding SAE was supposed to be the symbol of free enterprise in a
>new Iraq. But the tribulations of Iraqna (pronounced ee-RAQ-na)
>since its launch in late 2003 underscore the difficulty of doing
>business in a nation at war, where the freedom of wireless
>communication often hits head-on the needs of security.
>Almost half of Iraqna's 300 power generators -- a necessity in
>Iraqi cities, because blackouts are still a daily occurrence --
>have been stolen. Three communication sites were destroyed by
>bombs. Late last year, insurgents kidnapped two Iraqna engineers,
>expatriates from Egypt, and accused them of collaborating with the
>U.S. Then, Iraqi security services raided Iraqna headquarters and
>briefly detained the company's head of security, accusing him of
>colluding with the insurgents.
>"We're between the two fires, operating in the most dangerous spot
>in the world," says Shamel Hanafi, Iraqna's chief commercial
>officer, who was the company's first employee on the ground here
>and now co-manages the network. He sits in the company's bunker-
>like office, protected against suicide bombers by concrete blast
>walls and dozens of Kalashnikov-toting gunmen employed by Iraqna.
>Some insurgents had accused Iraqna of helping security forces spy
>on their activities -- a charge Iraqna denies, saying it
>deliberately opted not to install equipment in the communications
>network that would have allowed it to track and store users'
>Despite pouring more than $180 million into Iraq, making it one of
>the largest private foreign investors here, Iraqna has had trouble
>assuring regular service in Baghdad. Late last year and throughout
>the first half of 2005 its network was plagued by frequent outages
>that sometimes lasted hours or days, causing widespread resentment.
>"All the Iraqis know that this is the worst provider in the whole
>world. You can't contact anyone at any time," grumbles Muthanna
>Anis, a vendor of cellphone accessories.
>Bombarded with complaints, Iraqna officials have pointed their
>fingers in one direction: the U.S. All along, U.S. forces here have
>been using jamming devices to disrupt enemy communications during
>security raids and to neutralize cellphones attached to bombs that
>may be waiting along the road when a convoy passes. When called,
>these phones work as detonators, making the bombs explode.
>In Baghdad, fear of cellphones is so widespread that U.S. and Iraqi
>security guards routinely order civilians to remove the batteries
>from their phones before approaching checkpoints. Wireless
>technology has made insurgent groups much more effective. For
>example, a mortar-firing team miles away from its target can adjust
>its aim via cellphone contact with a spotter, who can see exactly
>where mortar shells have landed.
>Iraqna has 1.1 million subscribers, up from 537,000 at the end of
>2004 -- the increase came after the company expanded in Iraq's
>southern region, said Jonas Lindblad, a Middle East senior analyst
>for Pyramid Research, a communications consulting firm in
>Cambridge, Mass. When service was first offered in Iraq after the
>war, subscribers paid a one-time fee of $69 and calling cards were
>sold in denominations of $20 or $30. Now, starting Iraqna service
>costs $17.50, and calling cards are as cheap as $10. Rates vary
>from six to 12 cents per minute.
>Cellphones, despite Iraqna's problems, still often provide more
>reliable communications than the fixed-line phone network, which
>was badly damaged in Baghdad by American bombing and subsequent
>looting in 2003. Most Iraqi cellphone users have prepaid cards that
>they can continually replenish.
>U.S. military officials acknowledge that occasional jamming occurs
>but deny that they systematically disrupt Iraqi communications
>networks. Iraqna officials disagree, alleging that American
>interference reached such massive proportions in recent months that
>it frequently knocked out their entire system.
>"We understand the circumstances here, and we can accept some
>interference three or four hours a day -- but not around the clock,
>24 hours," says Mr. Hanafi. "The customers don't understand. They
>think it's our mistake. People come here and complain, saying we
>stole their money, we're crooks."
>Most U.S. officials in Baghdad, and select Iraqis, rely on a
>separate, restricted cellphone network managed by MCI Inc. that
>uses the 914 area code of New York's Westchester County. Another
>mobile-phone competitor, Atheer Telecom, a company part-owned by
>Britain's Vodafone Group PLC, has been expanding into Baghdad in
>recent months, poaching clients unhappy with Iraqna's performance.
>Iraq's cellular licenses, issued when the nation was governed by
>the U.S. occupation authority in 2003, divided the country into
>three monopoly areas, initially restricting Iraqna to Baghdad and
>central Iraq, cellphone company Asiacell to the northern part, and
>Atheer to southern regions. These limits were lifted last year,
>allowing competition. The three licenses expire at the end of 2005;
>authorities plan a conference in London starting today to discuss
>possible renewal.
>Iraqna has repeatedly taken jamming complaints to the Iraqi
>government's telecommunications ministry, urging it to intercede
>with the U.S. military and to confirm for irate clients that such
>interference does indeed go on. Nasi Abachi, the ministry's head of
>frequency management, says he and his team have responded to
>several Iraqna tip-offs in recent months.
>On at least one occasion, he says, the Iraqi investigators
>discovered a "clone" broadcast tower operating in central Baghdad
>that falsely identified itself as part of the Iraqna network. The
>result of such "intelligent jamming" was that all the phones in the
>area tried to abandon the real antenna and switch to the clone,
>causing a network overload and a massive disruption of service.
>Investigators have no proof that U.S. forces operated the clone
>antenna, but no one else in Iraq is believed to have the technical
>capability to do so. "We have good reason to believe that what
>Iraqna is saying is right," Mr. Abachi says.
>Despite the problems, Iraqna is pushing ahead to gain new business.
>It is targeting Iraq's southern region because it's heavily
>populated, with roughly nine million people, and has a more stable
>security environment than Baghdad. Like the incumbents and several
>potential newcomers, Iraqna plans to compete for the new Iraq
>mobile licenses.
>Plus, Iraqna's increasingly public complaints seem to have had some
>effect. While jamming still occurs, it has been causing "much less
>impact on the network" in recent weeks, says Iraqna's Mr. Hanafi.

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