Internet Commercialization in Egypt: A Country Model

Tarek Kamel <tkamel@idsc.gov.eg>
Information and Decision Support Center/Regional Information Technology and Software Engineering Center
Egypt

Abstract

This paper describes the evolution of the Internet in Egypt from its birth in the academic sector up to its commercial takeoff. It addresses the main lessons learned in facing infrastructure limitations in a developing country as well as the new role of the government, in partnership with the private sector, to promote value-added information services in the country. The paper concludes with a description of the opportunities and the challenges to establish a strong Internet society and community in Egypt.

Contents

Introduction

The Internet is a revolutionary phenomenon in telecommunication and information technology. It has opened new opportunities for a networked society and has established new concepts for human communication and interaction. The social and technical effects of the Internet are enormous in the developed as well as in the developing world.

The classical roles of telecommunication monopolies in the developing countries are changing under the new concepts of the Internet: services integration, multimedia access, the evolution of value-added service providers, and content providers. This evolution has already opened new venture and job opportunities for a new generation and it challenges the continuity of other traditional roles of various entities and individuals.

There are several experiences in the developing countries showing how the networked society is being transformed from a limited experiment within the academic community to a countrywide and global network. These experiments have generated new challenges and opportunities on the technical and business levels. This paper outlines the Egyptian experience in that aspect.

Internet development in Egypt: historical background

Internet services in Egypt started in October 1993 via a 9.6K link between the Egyptian Universities Network and France carrying the Bitnet as well as Internet traffic. The user community at the time was estimated at about 2000 users. In 1994 the Egyptian domain was divided into three major subdomains: the academic subdomain (eun.eg and sci.eg), which is served via the Egyptian Universities Network (EUN); the commercial subdomain (com.eg); and the governmental subdomain (gov.eg), which is served via a partnership between the Information and Decision Support Center and the Regional Information Technology and Software Engineering Center (IDSC/RITSEC) (Figure 1).

Fig. 1

Interconnectivity was drastically improved in 1994 by the provision of a 64K digital access to France in cooperation with IDSC and the EUN and Egypt Telecom. This included the setup of a number of digital multiplexors as the first digital backbone for data communication in Egypt. The fiber connectivity was made available on SEMEWE-2, thus overcoming the basic obstacles of infrastructure limitations.

The current structure of the Internet in Egypt

Figure 2 illustrates the Internet universe in Egypt with all its components: the basic infrastructure, the gateways, the Internet service providers (ISPs), and the various users.

Fig. 2

Internet evolution in Egypt from an academic to a commercial Network: challenges and opportunities

In 1994 the Internet in Egypt became a public service, not only a service in the educational sector. Therefore IDSC decided to raise awareness about Internet services in the commercial community and provided free accounts for Egyptian corporations. This was done with the financial support of the Egyptian government to open the country to the rest of the world. This step has educated the market and has shown the advantages of Internet services to the public. The basic foundations for starting a strong commercial Internet community in the country were set: market awareness and potential, limited but sufficient infrastructure deployment, and a general policy to open the country and to liberalize its value-added information services. The government, represented by IDSC and Egypt Telecom, has started an initiative for the development of an Internet backbone and gateway facility with reasonable prices to be used by private-sector ISPs. This has been achieved by the establishment of the above mentioned high-speed gateway at IDSC. Egypt has now 16 operational ISPs in Cairo, Alexandria, Sinai, and the Red Sea area providing basic Internet services for commercial enterprises and individual users. The government will further support the academic and governmental sectors with its services. The catalytic role of the government will continue to help the newly established ISPs establish a strong industry for value-added information services in the country and to promote tourism, culture, and various economic activities in Egypt as a base for socioeconomic development.

Internet commercialization in Egypt has opened various opportunities for the networked society and has generated new challenges as well.

Opportunities

The following points highlight the major opportunities attached to Internet commercialization in Egypt:

Challenges

In spite of big growth there are still a number of challenges that the Internet community in Egypt has to face:

Summary and conclusion

It is clear that Egypt's newly established Internet community and society have revolutionized a lot of concepts in the country. New challenges for the public and private sectors, as well as for the government and individuals, have been made and should be tackled by a new way of thinking with decentralization and deregulation. New opportunities are being opened for the country with the creation of jobs and investment ventures in value-added services as well as in content building.

References

  1. Lynch, D.; Rose, M. Internet System; Addison & Wesley: New York, 1993.
  2. El Sherif, H. "The Regional Information Highway," Keynote presentation at the Regional Networking Seminar, Cairo, December 1994.
  3. Kamel, T.; Abel Baki, N. "The Communication Infrastructure and the Internet Services as a Base for a Regional Information Highway," Inet'95 Proceedings, Hawaii, June 1995.