The Internet Commercialization in Egypt: Challenges and Opportunities
Dr. Tarek Kamel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Manager of Communication
This paper describes the evolution of the Internet services in Egypt
from its birth in the academic sector up to its commercial take off. It
addresses the main lessons learned to face the infrastructure limitations
in a developing country as well as the new role of the government to play
a catalytic role in a partnership with the private sector to promote the
value added information services in the country. It concludes with the
description of the opportunities and the challenges to establish a strong
Internet society and community in Egypt.
The Internet Development in Egypt: A Historical Background
The Current Structure of the Internet in Egypt
The Internet Evolution in Egypt from and Academic to a Commercial
Network: Challenges and Opportunities
Summary and Conclusion
The Internet is a major revolutionary phenomena in the area of telecommunication
and information technology in the 20th century. It has opened new opportunities
for a networked society and it has established new concepts for human communication
and interaction. The social and technical effects of the Internet are enormous
and revolutionary 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 in 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 as well the continuity
of other traditional roles of various entities and individuals.
There are various experiences in the developing countries describing
how the networked society is being transferred 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
The Internet Development in Egypt: A Historical Background
The Internet services started in Egypt in October 1993 via a 9.6K link
between the Egyptian Universities Network and France carrying the Bitnet
as well as the Internet traffic. The user community was estimated by that
time with 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
(See Fig. 1).
The interconnectivity has been drastically improved in 1994 by the provision
of a 64k digital access to France in cooperation between IDSC and the EUN
and Egypt Telecom, by the setup of a number of digital multiplexors as
the first digital backbone for data communication in the country. The fiber
connectivity was made available on SEMEWE-2 and thus the basic obstacles
of the Infrastructure limitations have been overcome.
The Current Structure of the Internet in Egypt
The following section will describe the structure of the Internet Universe
in Egypt. Fig. 2 illustrates this universe with all its components: the
basic infrastructure, the gateways, the ISPs as well as the various users.
Egypt Telecom has an ambitious program for the upgrade of the data communication
infrastructure facilities in Egypt. It has started in cooperation with
IDSC/RITSEC to deploy a set of digital multiplexors as the first digital
backbone in the country for Internet services. This digital backbone will
be upgraded to frame relay soon. The international connectivity to and
from Egypt is provided via satallite links using Intelsat and fibre connectivity
using SEMWE-2 to Europe and via TAD-12 to USA. Although it provides the
country with sufficient bandwidth to the rest of the world, the prices
of the international connectivity are prohibitively high. The rural areas
are provided with data communication services via VSAT terminals with hub
based and hubless communication.
Egypt has new several gateways to the Internet as illustrated in Fig. 3:
The first gateway is at IDSC/RITSEC. This gateway has two 1Mega links to
the USA backbone, one link via Intelsat with MCI and the other one via
fibre to Sprint/global-one. This gateway serves the governmental sector
and it provides also Internet connectivity to about 15 ISP out of the16
ISP in the country. The Internet Service Providers focus mainly on providing
the services to the private sector as well as to the individuals. Some
of the ISP have already started to provide their services outside Cairo,
in Hurghada, Alexandria and Sharm El Sheikh.
The second gateway is at EUN and it serves all twelve Egyptian Universities
as well as the research institutes connected to ENSTINET. It also provides
connectivity to an ambitious project to connect hundreds of secondary schools
to the Internet. The gateway has a fibre link to France with 256K and it
will be upgraded soon to respond to the evolving potential in the academic
and educational sectors.
An additional gateway provides connectivity to one private sector ISP with
a 128K link via fibre to France. Other ISPs are also investigating the
establishment of their own gateways to the Internet.
The Internet Users in Egypt are considered as a major component of the
Internet universe. The number of users here increased from two thousand
mainly in the educational sector in 1994 to more than 25,000 users in early
1997. The total number of users is expected to achieve more than 50,000
users by the end of 1997. The number of users in the educational sector
has jumped from few thousand users in 1994 to about ten thousand users
in the early 1997. The governmental users are estimated with about five
thousand users in about 30 ministries and organizations in Cairo. This
number is expected to grow drastically when introducing the service via
IDSC in all 26 governorates information centers from Aswan to Alexandria.
The number of users in the commercial sector have evolved from tens of
users in early 1994 to about ten thousand users in early 1997 and they
include individuals as well as private sector corporations. More growth
is expected with the connectivity of the evolving business and private
sector community in the new industrial zones in 10th of Ramadan and 6th
of October Cities.
The Internet Evolution in Egypt from an Academic to
a Commercial Network:
Challenges and Opportunities
In 1994, and as it has been mentioned above the basic foundations for
the connectivity were set, so that the Internet could become a public service
and not only a service in the educaioal sector. Therefore IDSC decided
to raise awareness about the 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 the Internet services to the public community. The basic
foundation for starting a strong commercial Internet community in the country
Market awareness and potential, limited but sufficient infrastructure
deployment as described in the last section as well as a general policy
and approach 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 the private sector ISP. This has been
achieved by the establishment of the above mentioned high speed gateway
at IDSC and by opening this gateway for the use of various ISPs.
Egypt has now over sixteen operational ISP in Cairo, Alexandria, Sinai
and the Red Sea area providing their basic Internet services for the commercial
enterprises and the individual users. The government will further support
the academic and the governmental sector with its services. The catalytic
role of the government will continue to support the newly established ISP
to establish a strong industry for value added information services in
the country and to promote the tourism, the culture and the various economic
activities in Egypt as a base for socio-economic development.
The Internet commercialization in Egypt has opened various opportunities
for the networked society and has generated new challenges as well.
The following points highlight the major opportunities attached with
the Internet commercialization in Egypt:
The Internet commercialization is a new model for the cooperation between
the public and private sectors in the telecommunication sector. The government
has played a catalytic role in raising the awareness as well as the deployment
of the infrastructure, while the private sector carries the value added
services to the end users. More than sixteen private sector Internet Service
Providers have been established in Egypt within 1996 and 1997, which has
created a new industry with new jobs and venture opportunities in the country.
The Internet has opened a window for the information services in Egypt
to the world. The various projects of the Middle East Economic Summit which
has been organized by the world economic forum and the Egyptian Government
in Egypt in November 1996 has been put on the web servers in Egypt and
abroad prior to the Summit. This has helped in the creation of a lot of
linkages for the business community in Egypt with the outside world: It
provides an opportunity to promote the country in the areas of tourism,
culture and trade.
The success of the government/private sector partnership in the commercialization
of the Internet Services will push the deregulation of other value added
services as well as communication services in the country. The communication
infrastructure deployment is one of the promising areas for the private
sector participation. Egypt Telecom has already started that for the VSAT
project in Egypt to provide connectivity for rural areas. Two leading companies
have been licensed to install their VSAT hubs in Egypt and to sell the
VSAT terminals exclusively for the next few years.
A new opportunity for the cooperation on a regional level in the area of
Internet connectivity has come up. RITSEC has taken an initiative in that
aspect and has established in cooperation with various other regional organizations
the Regional Arab Information Technology Network (Raitnet) as a base for
the regional cooperation. Egypt is qualified to play a significant role
on the regional level as an Internet gateway to other countries in the
region and in Africa. RITSEC already provides Internet connectivity to
Syria and a limited access to Saudi Arabia. Still a lot of effort is needed
to enrich its Infostructure with the necessary content in the area of tourism,
health and trade.
The Internet awareness and human resource development is also considered
as one of the opportunities to educate the younger generation with the
new technology of the cyberspace. An ambitious project to provide Internet
connectivity to two thousand Egyptian secondary schools, is running by
the ministry of education.
Inspite of the big growth there is still a number of challenges in various
areas that the Internet community in Egypt has to face:
The community is taking steps to establish a strong Internet society in
the country in a partnership between the government, the private sector
and the NGOs as well as the individual users. The society will protect
the newly established Internet community from any unexpected actions to
be taken by any party. One of the major and highly needed objectives is
to put a widely accepted code of ethics for the Internet in Egypt as an
oriental society with its conservative traditions.
The development and promotion of the multilingual (Arabic/English....)
access for the various Internet services is one of the major technical
and marketing challenges. It will give the Internet services a new dimension
of penetration in new geographical areas and new evolving areas of applications
like education and trade services. This will increase the intra-country
Internet traffic as well as the international Internet traffic.
The legislative issues are also considered as one of the most important
challenges. The Internet services have been commercially deployed while
the legal framework and model for the government/private sector partnership
is being worked out. This framework determines the responsibility of the
government in infrastructure deployment and the ISP in providing the value
added services. New legislations are needed handle various issues about
the Internet operation as well as the operation of public cyber cafes in
The wide scale and up-to-date infrastructure deployment is also one of
the major challenges. The priorities of the government are mainly focusing
on the deployment of basic telephony service all over the country to reach
a high penetration in the society. High speed integrated networks are put
on the agenda but not yet implemented. The participation of the private
sector in the establishment of infrastructure will also be a new opportunity
and a new challenge in the future as Egypt will have large bandwidth requirements
for the newly evolving multimedia applications.
The build up of the Egyptian Internet with its Infostructure and servers
in different disciplines is one of the major challenges we will face in
Egypt's Internet Community. The content buildup has always been considered
as one of the roles of the governmental organizations exclusively. The
evolving private sector ISP participation in Web development and hosting,
introduces new challenges for the private sector with new responsibilities
for the validation and security of the contents.
The security of the Internet and Intranet is also considered as one of
the decisive issues which will affect the growth of the Internet in the
country. The Egyptian society, although being an evolving economy, has
its own conservative traditions. The indecent material on the Internet
has triggered a lot of debates and contraversion between various society
groups of different ages. The Internet society is challenged with the assignment
to find out an acceptable model to reduce the access of pornography to
the public community via the Internet within the framework of the code
The Internet commercialization is a first step twoards the privatization
and deregulation of communication services in the country. It has been
implemented for the first time in this sector in Egypt in a government/private
sector partnership and cooperation. The success and maturity of this model
from technical as well as from business, social and regulatory aspects
will directly imply further deregulation of other basic and value added
services in that sector in Egypt.
Summary and Conclusion
To conclude, it is clear that Egypt's newly established Internet community
and society has revolutionized a lot of concepts in the country. New challenges
for the public and private sectors as well as for the government and individuals
has been put and should be tackled in 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 the value added services
as well as in the content building.
Lynch, M. Rose, "Internet System", Addison & Wesley, 1993.
El Sherif, "The Regional Information Highway", Keynote presentation at
the Regional networking seminar, Cairo, December 1994.
Kamel & N. Abel Baki, "The Communication Infrastructure and the Internet
Services as a Base for a Regional Information Highway", Inet'95 Proceedings,
Hawaii, June 1995.
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