The Iraqi region of Kurdistan recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence.
While the political machinations will continue for some time—with Iraq, Iran, and Turkey all having spoken out against the prospect of an independent Kurdish state—the vote has prompted us to take a closer look at the region’s telecoms markets.
The wireless market in the Kurdistan Region is home to five network operators: national cellcos Zain, Asiacell, and Korek Telecom, plus local players Mobitel and Fastlink.
The semi-autonomous region, which has its own regulatory body, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, has a more relaxed approach to regulation than the rest of the country.
Mobitel was awarded a license to offer 2G and 3G mobile services in 2007, going on to launch later that year. It has since built up a subscriber base of around 2.5 million, including an estimated 400,000 3G users.
Fastlink acquired its license in early 2013, allowing it to launch 4G LTE services across the Kurdistan region. It inaugurated its first LTE networks in June that year and has since built up a customer base of close to half a million.
The semi-autonomous region, which has its own regulatory body—the Ministry of Transport and Communications—has a more relaxed approach to regulation than the rest of the country, giving it a more open attitude to outside investment and a more business-centric focus. As a result, it has been at the forefront of wireless technology development in Iraq. Until January 2015, Mobitel was Iraq’s sole 3G licensee, while Fastlink is still the country’s only 4G service provider.
|Iraq Mobile Market|
|Korek Telecom||2001||2G, 3G||Nationwide|
The broadband segment in the Kurdistan Region is also well ahead of that in the rest of Iraq, best exhibited by Erbil-based Newroz Telecom, which was formed in 2007. It provides services over a time division duplex LTE (TD-LTE) system, which has been upgraded from its previous WiMAX network and now covers the whole of the region. It also operates ADSL fixed networks in the cities of Erbil and Duhok.
Also active in Kurdistan are well-established WiMAX operators 7Netlayers Telecom— which offers services under the WeGo brand—Fanoos Telecom, and Tel High Telecom. Following in Newroz’s footsteps, Tel High Telecom has also begun overlaying its WiMAX platform with a TD-LTE network.
Meanwhile, FastIraq and IQ Networks–both of which are headquartered in Kurdistan–provide wholesale broadband connectivity and international links.
|Iraq Broadband Market|
|SCIS||1999||BFWA, DSL, FTTx||Nationwide|
|DijlaNet||2003||BFWA, FTTx, satellite||Nationwide|
|Kalimat Telecom||2007||BFWA, FTTx||Nationwide|
|Newroz Telecom||2007||DSL, TD-LTE||Kurdistan|
|Tel High Telecom||2011||WiMAX, TD-LTE||Kurdistan|
In October 2017 the Iraqi government said that cellcos based in the Kurdistan region would be forced to move their headquarters to Baghdad. The move reportedly forms part of Iraq’s strategy of isolating the Erbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government.
As well as the Kurdish regional licensees, nationwide operators Asiacell and Korek Telecom both have their main offices in Kurdistan.
While the political future of the Kurdistan Region is still up in the air, we can be more certain that the region’s telcos will continue to break new technological ground well ahead of their counterparts in the rest of Iraq.
Pete Bell is a Research Analyst for TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database and also contributes to the daily CommsUpdate newsletter. He has a particular interest in wireless broadband and was responsible for TeleGeography’s 4G Research Service until it was integrated into GlobalComms.