Finland’s Nokia will modernize and expand Zain Iraq‘s radio networks with its most advanced technologies across Karbala, Najaf and Basra, with a special focus on the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, to support the expected increase in data and voice traffic during Zeyara as millions of people converge on the region.

Zeyara is an annual event in the holy city of Karbala, which culminates in the event of Al Arba’een. It attracts visitors from across the globe and is one of the world’s largest public gatherings.

Once completed, the upgrade will allow users to enjoy improved indoor and outdoor coverage in both urban and rural areas as well as increased data throughput, leading to an overall superior customer experience.

Nokia’s project management and proven services expertise will be used to expand and modernize Zain Iraq’s 2G and 3G network, providing ubiquitous coverage and faster mobile broadband.

Additionally, the Nokia Mass Event Handler will be deployed to address the surge in data and voice consumption expected during Zeyara. The network modernization will allow visitors to remain continuously connected with their loved ones through superior voice and data connectivity during Al Arba’een and beyond.

Ali Al-Zahid, Chief Executive Officer of Zain Iraq, said:

Our top priority is to provide superior services for our subscribers. This network modernization and expansion is only the beginning of providing the best possible service quality and coverage with the most advanced technologies across the overall Karbala and Najaf and rest of sourthern region.

“We selected Nokia, our longstanding technology partner, for this important project, as we are confident that its advanced technologies will enable our network to provide such superior services. The current project will also enable a best-in-class mobile experience for visitors to Zeyara when we expect a high turnout this year.

Bernard Najm, head of the Middle East Market Unit at Nokia, said:

“Nokia fully understands Zain Iraq’s requirements and is committed to providing leading technologies to enable pioneering services for its subscribers. Nokia’s solutions cater to the unique connectivity requirements of mass events, and will help Zain Iraq address the expected surge in data and voice consumption during Zeyara.”

Overview of the solutions:

  • The high capacity and energy-efficient Nokia Flexi Multiradio 10 Base Station will be used to add the third carrier of 5 MHz on the 900 MHz band, to enhance capacity and increase coverage in suburban and rural areas.
  • Nokia’s Mass Event Handler will ensure network performance is not adversely affected because of heavy traffic during Zeyara. Another feature of the software – HSUPA Interference Cancellation – handles data more efficiently, enabling end users to upload pictures without any network glitch.
  • Nokia FlexiZone will be deployed to enhance coverage and capacity of the existing 3G network in Karbala.
  • Nokia’s refarming service will refarm GSM 900 MHz frequency to expand the operator’s 3G network.
  • Nokia’s NetAct virtualized network management software will provide robust capabilities for troubleshooting, assurance, administration, software management and configuration.
  • Nokia’s Network Planning and Optimization (NPO), Network Implementation , and Care services will ensure smooth execution of the project and maximize the return on Zain’s technology investments.

(Source: Nokia)

By John Lee.

Mobile phone operators based in Iraqi Kurdistan have reportedly been told by the Iraqi government to move their headquarters to Baghdad, following the region’s recent vote for independence.

Asiacell is based in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, while Korek is based in Erbil; Zain, however, is based in Baghdad.

According to a report from Reuters on Tuesday, neither Asiacell nor Korek has received any formal demand to move.

(Source: Reuters)

Zain Iraq has selected Sweden’s Ericsson to upgrade its existing network using Ericsson’s virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) offering to meet the growing data demands of its customers in the region.

Under this collaboration, Ericsson will modernize the current infrastructure of Zain Iraq’s network by implementing a solution that will enable the operator to quickly introduce new services for customers, while maintaining high performance network requirements.

Ericsson will modernize Zain Iraq’s existing infrastructure into Ericsson NFV infrastructure (NFVi) solution, which provides a software-defined infrastructure with Hyperscale Datacenter System 8000. Also as part of the solution, Ericsson will provide system integration and support services.

Ali Al-Zahid, CEO, Zain Iraq, says:

We trust that Ericsson’s Network Functions Virtualization solution will be enable us to meet our strategic goals as well as our customers’ demands, and continue to provide superior performance while meeting growing data needs.

“This investment and ongoing modernization of our network is yet another example of our dedication to future-proofing our operations for the benefit of all stakeholders. It also reflects our commitment to providing the mobile community in Iraq with the highest quality of service available, delivered via cutting edge infrastructure and technology to ensure a superior mobile experience for our customers.

Rafiah Ibrahim (pictured), President of Ericsson Middle East and Africa says:

Today’s deal represents a significant milestone for Ericsson as it further strengthens our partnership with Zain Iraq and is another testament of our commitment to our customer’s success.  Iraq is an important market for mobile network development and innovation. 

“As Iraqi users are passionate adopters of new technology, network modernization and adoption of new technologies become critical to meet Iraqi users’ demand for capacity and coverage.

Ericsson vEPC supports high-capacity environments and provides verified solutions, addressing many vertical use cases to open up new opportunities for operators.

(Source: Ericsson)

Oman Telecommunications (Omantel) has announced that it will purchase 425.7 million of Zain‘s treasury shares in a cash transaction at an offer price of KWD 0.60 per share – subject to regulatory approval.

Once complete, Omantel will own a minority stake in Zain Group of approximately 9.84% in outstanding common shares.

The total consideration of the transaction is valued at USD 846.1 million (OMR 325.6 million).

Martial Caratti (pictured), Chief Financial Officer, Omantel, said:

“Acquiring a minority stake in Zain is a deliberate investment for Omantel as we position ourselves as a leading digital service provider.

“This is in line with our Corporate Strategy 3.0, launched in 2015. We have always emphasised that growth will come from continued diversification, and this acquisition positions Omantel for the future.”

(Source: Omantel)

Many vulnerable rural families in Iraq can now benefit from a safer, more secure means of receiving income thanks to mobile money transfer technology adopted for the first time by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as part of a cash-for-work programme aimed at rehabilitating agricultural infrastructure and land.

The programme, which is funded by the Belgium Government, will support 12,000 conflict-affected people in 30 villages in Kirkuk, Anbar, Salah al-Din and Ninewa governorates. It will benefit local farmers, by enabling them to restart or expand farming activities with rehabilitated infrastructure, and provides agricultural livelihoods opportunities for displaced people returning home.

Participants, who are from households with no other income source, include women who often the sole breadwinners for their families, and people with a disability. The workers and their families are people who either remained in their villages during conflict or returned home after being displaced by the fighting.

Fadel El-Zubi, FAO Representative in Iraq, said:

The use of mobile technology will streamline the safe delivery of cash transfers to participants, who are some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

“Providing income opportunities is critical in rural areas affected by conflict, where competition for employment is high, jobs are scarce and people are struggling to support their families.

International partnership

To facilitate the payments, FAO has partnered with Zain a mobile and data services operator with a commercial footprint in eight Middle Eastern and African countries. Participant names and identity numbers are pre-registered with the company, and they receive a free SIM card.

Ericsson has been awarded an extension of its Managed Services contract with Zain Iraq until 2021, after successfully providing Managed Services for Networks, IT and value-added services to the operator since 2012.

Under the terms of the new contract, Ericsson strengthens its role as a trusted business partner by supplying a Service Operation Center and Energy Network Operations Center to Zain Iraq.

The expanded scope means the operator will be able to provide a better user experience by managing the quality of service from an end-to-end perspective.

Ali Al Zahid, CEO, Zain Iraq, says:

“Based on our first five years together, we know that Ericsson reflects our own core values in maintaining standards and service delivery. During the next five years, as we continually upgrade and expand our network, we expect even greater success by ensuring that exceptional network and service performance is available for our customers.”

Rafiah Ibrahim, Head of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, says:

“Making these improvements to our existing deal with Zain Iraq will greatly assist the operator to transition from network performance to service performance, and we look forward to facilitating this evolution as a trusted partner and supplier.”

Ericsson’s Managed Services are designed to meet the unique needs of each operator in terms of cost efficiency, service performance and technology evolution, ultimately to improve operators’ abilities to meet consumers’ expectations.

(Source: Ericsson)

By John Lee.

Zain Group Vice-Chairman and Group CEO, Bader Al-Kharafi (pictured), has said that he anticipates improved performances in Iraq, “where several tax and litigation issues have been resolved and the new leadership there can now focus on driving the business.

In its results announcement for Q1, the company added:

Despite the initiation of intense price competition in the market during Q1, 2017, coupled with continuing social unrest, Zain Iraq managed to achieve USD 253 million revenues due to impressive growth in data usage and numerous customer acquisition initiatives in the northern regions of the country.

“The operation’s efficiency drive saw EBITDA reach USD 86 million, reflecting a 34% margin. Zain Iraq leads the market serving 12.3 million customers.

(Source: Zain)

By Ashley Goodall.

From Bombs to Bytes: How tech can Diversify and Transform Iraq’s Economy

One of the big hits at this year’s Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) conference was the tech panel (pictured) with four leading Tech companies using tech to deliver their unique services: Zain Telco, launching Zain Cash, Restrata who offer cyber security to the traditional and emergent digital economy, and Gulftainer, the logistics to connect Iraq to the world of commerce and Inevert, a start-up tech investor.

There is a clear appetite and ambition in youthful Iraq to connect with the modern world and repurpose the Iraqi economy. The digitisation of the Iraqi economy could usefully transform several objectives in one swoop and be a massive agent of positive change:

Prime is the need to diversify the economy away from reliance on oil and gas. Iraq has plentiful supplies of oil but the price is volatile and the country still needs to find employment for millions of young people. Digitising the economy would not only provide hundreds of thousands of jobs, but connect the economy to the modern world virtually and in reality.

A bi-product of tech will enable the rapidly growing young generation, who are numerate and tech friendly, to have engaging jobs and fulfil aspirations, instead of a distractive poverty and extreme ideologies.

Secondly, Tech as a transactional mechanism also drives transparency, especially when money is concerned. Tech bypasses corruption: It’s no secret that Mastercard is seen as a benign influence in eradicating fraud and corruption in emerging economies. Likewise, Zain cash now offer online payments via Facebook for entrepreneurs to sell their products and services.

Not only does this open up e commerce to millions of naturally entrepreneurial Iraqis, but also to people and markets  in the wider region, along with options to pay for advertising and marketing support. All this  without the need to pay middle men or bribes. Tech is ‘the agent’ of transparency, for the people and for government.

Finally, Tech is an agent of cultural transformation and change – as people engage with each other in social media, collaborate in business, and young people learn from educational programs , as Maeve Walsh of UKs DCMS says, the UK Government conducts swathes of its civic, electoral and societal business via the internet. Likewise Iraq can transform government activity within the country, and ‘Iraq Tech’ can also change external perceptions of the country .

What can make this happen?

Much of the infrastructure is already in the country through the private sector: Zain telco and its Zain cash wallet- Restrata have the cyber tech to protect businesses and Omar Hussan of Inevert is eyeing opportunities for investment- along with Zain, who also intend building a tech hub in Baghdad.

Clearly much more investment is required into the emergent start up economy, and despite availability of the free ‘Google skills,’ the government needs to embrace tech education, infrastructure and online transactions- but the private sector can already see entrepreneurial commerce as the driver of change.

With a young and educated population of natural trading entrepreneurs, keen to get on with their lives, it’s only a matter of time before the country leapfrogs less liberal countries in the region. Iraq has been held back for too long, but now could be the time the dynamism of the people, their access to electronic platforms, and relative stability could be the trigger that pivots Iraq into a golden age of tech.

Ashley Goodall is a martketing consultant to Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC).

By Ashley Goodall.

Back to the future.  The restoration of Iraq and British expertise.

Iraq has been in the news for a generation and our perceptions have been coloured by conflict and the near destruction of the Middle East’s most wealthy and civilised country. In the 1970’s Iraq was not only a secular and relatively harmonious multi-cultural society, but highly educated, enormously wealthy and a centre for cultural tourism.

While the media is focussed on the awful impact of IS, and the conflict in Mosul is still raging, it’s fair to say large swathes of the country, especially the South, have been free from conflict and are relatively peaceful. Indeed, the conduct and effectiveness of the Iraqi army has given hope to a peaceful aftermath in Mosul and Anbar province, with prospects for an end to IS and reconciliation with the Sunni groups in the west.

Today, similar conditions exist for a return to that wealth and civilisation- as the country comes together, Daesh are being seen off, the oil price is rising, the IMF and ISF are loaning the country $14bn for infrastructure, and educated expat entrepreneurs are beginning to return home with investment and know how.

Now that the UK is going global we should consider Iraq a strong business opportunity. Iraq is open for Investment, from the most basic Infrastructure: roads, rail, ports, airports and water, to new private housing, schools and universities, with Iraq’s abundant energy, oil, gas and petrochemical industries, to professional services and cultural tourism. Iraq is effectively virgin territory for investors, construction and professional and telco and cultural tourism services alike – in fact, all the things the UK excels in.

The picture for British industry is even stronger when we recognise British companies already play a leading role in the business ecology: Shell and BP are key players in the economy and offer an umbrella for British engineering companies; Eversheds, EY and PWC provide legal and accountancy services to our companies and Standard Chartered are there to service our finances.

The Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) with its long term and trusted relationships in senior government circles can also guide and assist members on political issues and through its extended membership there is a wealth of knowledge to assist new members in doing business in Iraq.

Tawfiq Tabbaa, Managing Partner of Eversheds Iraq, has seen a 25 percent increase in business, and the prospects of acceleration as international business moves back to Iraq, including a budegoning tech sector and a requirement for professional services to service international and local companies.

Alistair Kett, a Partner at PWC, observes:

“To the casual observer, any headlines relating to Iraq will be dominated by the ongoing defeat of Daesh and the associated albeit complex security picture. A closer look, however, reveals a country that has started a huge transformation. With significant financing available for huge infrastructure projects and many recognised organisations already embedded in their design and delivery the economic and commercial potential of this market is clearly shifting quickly.”

Mohammed Al Charchafchi, Chairman of Zain Iraq, indicates that:

The Iraqi economy is recovering and is projected to grow at 7 percent in the next few years, one of the highest growth rates in the world, this also applies on the GDP per capita and the contribution of non-oil revenue to the GDP of the country. The growth is mainly driven by the increased production of oil, inflow of FDI, structural reforms by the government and implementation of the IMF terms.

And IBBC new member GE has recently won a $1.4-billion contract to build new electric power stations. Frederic Ribieras, VP Global Growth says:

“GE just signed several new contracts worth a total of $1.4 billion with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity to add a further 2,000 MW via gas turbines, that drastically increases supply to Iraq’s grid. Thanks to GE’s global reach and relationships with various financing institutions and export credit agencies, GE also has been able to set up some $2 billion in credit to support the projects. This will enable the Iraqi government to improve its power supply without short-circuiting its finances.”

As if that is not bright enough the Chinese intend to bring the New Silk road (OBOR) and its investment train through northern Iraq to provide access to China and the West, for Iraq’s petrochemical industries. And the Iraqis are surprisingly loyal to the UK.

So we see an immediate future where Iraq begins to re-take its place in the league of wealthier nations, keen to expand consumer and professional services, fuelled by oil and petrochemical wealth and servicing an educated and capable population with a government willing to reform and invest.

It’s time to go back to the future and back to Iraq with British expertise and investment.

Ashley Goodall is a consultant at the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC).

By John Lee.

At its annual Ordinary General Assembly in Kuwait on Monday, Zain Group appointed a new Board of Directors for the coming three years.

Scott Gegenheimer, who has served as CEO for four-and-a-half years, has been moved to the new role of CEO of Operations, while Bader Al-Kharafi (pictured) becomes Vice-Chairman and CEO.

Mohannad Al Kharafi was named as Chairman.

(Source: Zain Group, Reuters)