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Wednesday | July 30, 2003

The battle for Iraq's phones

By Steve Gilliard

The US government is trying to establish an Iraqi mobile phone network. What many Americans don't realize is that a cell phone (mobile to our british friends) is a critical tool in the Third World, where landline connections are spotty. Even in relatively poor countries, cell phones are widely available.

There are two main cellphone protocols:GSM and CDMA. Notice that most of the world has GSM coverage. In the US, most service is CDMA, except for Deutsche Telekom, which now owns the sole GSM service in the US.

Of course, you'll notice that all of Iraq's neighbors have GSM only networks, as does most of Europe. GSM, like soccer, is the world standard, except in the United States.

So guess what Viceroy Jerry and the US are doing in Iraq?

A Bahraini company that established a network accessible to those without American phones has been forced to scrap its plans after a week.

Batelco had started placing more than $5m (3m) of aerials and other equipment for GSM mobiles across Baghdad. Foreign businessmen and journalists were able to abandon expensive satellite phones for the first time. But mindful of its desire to set up a tender for the country's mobile network, the US authorities apparently started to put pressure on Batelco, threatening to confiscate its equipment.

...... A decision to use GSM would be a blow to US firms tendering for the contract.

This isn't just about money. It is highly likely, as the map demonstrates, that an independent Iraqi government would choose a regional, GSM phone provider over an US CDMA provider. A GSM network means one phone for the entire region. CDMA means two phones and twice the cost.

These are expensive decisions being made in Washington, both for the US taxpayer and the Iraqi people. If implimented correctly, it could prove a boon to establishing a reliable Iraqi telecommunications system, one which was fairly well-advanced, despite sanctions and Saddam. If not, it will drain hundreds of millions as the Iraqis have to fix it.

Posted July 30, 2003 08:58 AM





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