EGYPT - THE CONTINENT’S NORTHERN INTERNET GIANT PIONEERS NEW MARKETS

29 March 2002

Top Story

Egypt is one of the continent’s largest two connectivity markets, the other being South Africa. The country spans both Africa and the Middle East and is therefore a key business centre for both markets. It has used the density of internet access it has already built up to pioneer the possibility of even greater levels of penetration through a free internet access initiative. It has also used its geographically advantageous position to develop an internet data centre offering server hosting among other things. Ahmed El-Sobky describes what’s happening.

 

The internet started in Egypt in 1993 with a bandwidth of only 14000 bps through 2 main service providers: - the Supreme Council of Universities ­ Foreign Relations Communication Unit "FRCU" - the Information Decision Support Center of the Cabinet of Ministers "IDSC".

 

FRCU served the academic sector, while IDSC was serving the governmental and commercial sectors. In March 1996 the main commercial ISPs entered the market and 24 ISPs started serving the community on subscription basis. In the fourth quarter of 1999 the first PDN operator and backbone provider got a license to start offering this service.

 

The bandwidth now used in Egypt is 400 Mbps and this is increasing day by day as the needs of the main backbone providers expand.

 

Egypt now has 4 PDN Operators and Backbone Providers who are offering the following services:

 

   Virtual ISP Service.

   Dedicated Internet Service to Corporate Accounts.

   DSL Service. o VPNs and some other VAS.

 

14 Large Scale and whole sales Internet providers who are offering the following services mainly to ISP and sometimes end users:

 

   Frame Relay.

   Portal Service.

   Value Added Services.

 

These internet services cover about 90% of Egypt’s inhabited areas. The number of subscriptions is now around 1 million, most of them are concentrated in Cairo and Alexandria.

 

There are accurate numbers for cyber-cafes but they number in the thousands. They are distributed all over Egypt and can be found in clubs, hotels and throughout the busier districts. Access rates vary from US$1.5 - US$3-4 per hour according to the type of cyber-cafe. The lower rate is usually found in the more basic cafes without additional services and the higher rate in the places with greater levels of comfort, luxury and additional services.

 

Egypt has more than 5000 domain names covering a variety of markets, including its first B2B portal for the pharmaceutical industry established by Citibank/CiraNet, an American/Egyptian joint venture.

 

In its efforts to spread internet usage across the country and transform Egypt into an information society, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology announced free internet access initiative in the country.

 

In partnership with licensed ISP’s, MCIT affiliate Telecom Egypt has set-up an estimated 15,000 ports, capable of serving 2 million internet users, with users having to pay only for the local dial-up phone tariff. The service has started at the beginning of this year.

 

No subscription is needed to access the net. The user only dials a number for her/his favorite ISP and get access immediately. The cost of the telephone call is shared between the ISP and the telecom operator 70%, 30% respectively. The cost of one hour connection is 1 Egyptian pound (about 0.22 US$).

 

This free internet access is now available within the greater Cairo area (which includes 3 governorates with about 16 million people). Within the next 4 months the service will start within Alexandria (with about 6 million people).

 

Egyptian government started to offer some of its services on the net in addition to the on-line telephone services it offers. The total number of services available now is 331 according to the site that offers these services. These services are from different sectors. Many of them are restricted to downloading forms and getting information about the required documents to get a service. One of the most successful service is the telephone e-billing. This service has been working for about a year now to enable landline telephone owners to pay their bills through the net by using credit cards.

 

In Sept 2001 the first internet data center in the Middle East ­ Egypt Cyber Center (ECC)­ was inaugurated.Boasting state-of-the-art technologies, the 25,000 square foot center provides e-commerce platforms, e-business applications, server hosting, internet connectivity, and disaster recovery options to IT-oriented businesses. Located in Cairo’s satellite 6th October City, ECC is part of the $25 million project conceived to help enterprises optimize internet operations using the latest technological advancements. The project’s value is expected to soar to $150 million within the next three years.

 

"ECC knows its customer’s success depends on a successful and resilient e-business," ECC is established to help the Egyptian E-business owners plan, build and manage their e-business, and work with them to integrate their front-end web services with the back-end enterprise systems." Companies housed at the center will be able to rely on a high speed redundant backbone, full redundant power with UPS fail-over, 24-hr on-staff help network, automated data backup, traffic analysis, network and server monitoring, contingency planning, and facility benefits such as climate control and high-tech security systems.