Internet Commercialization in Egypt: A Country Model
Tarek Kamel <email@example.com>
Information and Decision Support Center/Regional Information Technology and Software Engineering Center
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.
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
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 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
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
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.
- Egypt Telecom has an ambitious program to upgrade the data
communication infrastructure facilities in Egypt. The company
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. International connectivity to and from Egypt
is provided via satellite links using Intelsat and fiber connectivity
using SEMWE-2 to Europe and via TAD-12 to the U.S. Although this
connection provides the country with sufficient bandwidth to the
rest of the world, prices are prohibitively high. Rural areas
are provided with data communication services via VSAT terminals
with hub-based and hubless communication.
- Egypt has several new gateways to the Internet (Figure 3):
- The first gateway is at IDSC/RITSEC. This gateway has two
1Meg links to the U.S. backbone: one link via Intelsat with MCI
and the other one via fiber to Sprint/Global-one. This gateway
serves the governmental sector and also provides Internet connectivity
to about 15 of the 16 ISPs in the country. The ISPs focus mainly
on providing services to the private sector and to individuals.
Some of the ISPs 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 12 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 fiber link to France with 256K and it will be upgraded soon
to respond to the evolving potential in the academic and educational
- An additional gateway provides connectivity to one private-sector
ISP with a 128K link via fiber to France. Other ISPs are also
investigating the establishment of their own gateways to the Internet.
- Internet users in Egypt are considered as a major component
of the Internet universe. The number of users here increased from
2,000 in 1994, mainly in the educational sector, to more than
25,000 in early 1997. The total number of users is expected to
reach more than 50,000 by the end of 1997. The number of users
in the educational sector has jumped from a few thousand users
in 1994 to about 10,000 users in the early 1997. Governmental
users are estimated at about 5,000 in about 30 ministries and
organizations in Cairo. This number is expected to grow drastically
when service via IDSC is introduced in all 26 governorate information
centers from Aswan to Alexandria. Users in the commercial sector
have evolved from tens in early 1994 to about 10,000 in early
1997; these 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.
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
Internet commercialization in Egypt has opened various opportunities
for the networked society and has generated new challenges as
The following points highlight the major opportunities attached
to Internet commercialization in Egypt:
- Internet commercialization is a new model for cooperation
between the public and private sectors in telecommunication. The
government has played a catalytic role in raising awareness as
well as deployment of the infrastructure, while the private sector
carries value-added services to the end users. More than 16 private
sector ISPs have been established in Egypt in 1996 and 1997, which
has created a new industry with new jobs and venture opportunities.
- The Internet has opened a window for marketing information
services in Egypt to the world. The various projects of the Middle
East Economic Summit, organized in Egypt by the World Economic
Forum and the Egyptian Government in November 1996, were put on
Web servers in Egypt and abroad prior to the summit. This has
helped in the creation of linkages for the business community
in Egypt with the outside world and provides an opportunity to
promote tourism, culture, and trade.
- The success of the government/private sector partnership in
the commercialization of Internet services will push deregulation
of other value-added services as well as communication services
in the country. The communication infrastructure deployment is
a promising area for private-sector participation. Egypt Telecom
has already started 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 VSAT terminals exclusively
for the next few years.
- A new opportunity has arisen for cooperation on a regional
level in Internet connectivity. RITSEC has taken the an initiative
and has established, in cooperation with various other regional
organizations, the Regional Arab Information Technology Network
(Raitnet) as a base for 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 limited access
to Saudi Arabia. Still, a lot of effort is needed to enrich its
infrastructure with the necessary content in tourism, health,
- Internet awareness and human resource development are also
considered opportunities to educate the younger generation with
the new technology of cyberspace. An ambitious project to provide
Internet connectivity to 2,000 Egyptian secondary schools is being
run by the ministry of education.
In spite of big growth there are still a number of challenges
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 nongovernmental organizations as well
as individual users. The society will protect the newly established
Internet community from any unexpected actions by any party. One
of the major objectives is to put a widely accepted code of ethics
for the Internet in Egypt, an Oriental society with conservative
- The development and promotion of multilingual (Arabic/English)
access for the various Internet services is one of the major technical
and marketing challenges. It will give Internet services a new
dimension of penetration in new geographical areas and new areas
of applications like education and trade services. This will increase
intra-country Internet traffic as well as international Internet
- Legislative issues are also considered one of the most important
challenges. Internet services have been commercially deployed
while the legal framework and model for the government/private
sector partnership are being worked out. This framework determines
the responsibilities of the government in infrastructure deployment
and the ISPs in providing value-added services. New legislation
is needed to handle issues about Internet operation as well as
the operation of public "cybercafes" in the country.
- Wide-scale up-to-date infrastructure deployment is another
challenge. The priorities of the government are mainly focusing
on the deployment of basic telephone service all over the country.
High-speed integrated networks are on the agenda but not yet implemented.
Private-sector participation the establishment of infrastructure
will also be a new opportunity as Egypt will have large bandwidth
requirements for newly evolving multimedia applications.
- The buildup of the Egyptian Internet with its "infostructure"
and servers in different disciplines is one of the major challenges
we will face. The content buildup has always been considered a
role of governmental organizations exclusively. The evolving private-sector
ISP participation in Web development and hosting introduces new
challenges and new responsibilities for the validation and security
of the contents.
- The security of the Internet and Intranet is also considered
one of the decisive issues that will affect the growth of the
Internet in the country. The Egyptian society, although an evolving
economy, has its own conservative traditions. The indecent material
on the Internet has triggered a lot of debates and contraversion
among society groups of different ages. The Internet society is
challenged with the assignment to find an acceptable model to
reduce the public's access to Internet pornography within the
framework of the code of ethics.
- Internet commercialization is a first step toward the privatization
and deregulation of communication services in the country. This
is the first such government/private sector partnership and cooperation
in this sector in Egypt. The success and maturity of this model's
technical, business, social, and regulatory aspects will directly
affect further deregulation of other basic and value-added services
in that sector in Egypt.
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.
- Lynch, D.; Rose, M. Internet System; Addison &
Wesley: New York, 1993.
- El Sherif, H. "The Regional Information Highway,"
Keynote presentation at the Regional Networking Seminar, Cairo,
- 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.