Zain Iraq Plans to Invest $100m in Kurdish Zone

The Iraqi unit of Kuwait telecoms firm Zain is planning to spend $100m this year as part of its plan to expand throughout the entire Kurdish region over the next five months, its chief executive said yesterday.

Emad Makiya, CEO of Zain Iraq, the country’s biggest mobile phone operator, said the firm planned to extend its services to “every remote village” in the semi-autonomous northern area after officially launching operations in its three main cities on Wednesday. It started initial operations in Iraqi Kurdistan in October.

“The roll out has been completed for phase one. We’re starting phase two very soon. The whole investment is going to be in the neighbourhood of $100m for Zain in the Kurdish region,” he said. “Currently we are covering the metropolitan cities of Dohuk, Sulaimaniya and Erbil, and the connecting highways between the three governates and the rest of Iraq.”

Makiya said phase two involved getting vendors to help Zain extend services around the region and said the ground work for this would start in May. Iraq did not have a mobile phone market under the rule of Saddam Hussein, but the industry has boomed in the past eight years after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled him.

Zain, with 12 million subscribers, competes with AsiaCell and the Iraqi Kurdistan-based Korek; it expects to add up to 18,000 new subscribers a month from Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

Makiya said Zain had formally appealed against a $262m fine imposed by Iraq in January for breaching its license. Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission (CMC) last month said it had fined Zain for putting 5 million SIM cards in the local market without permission.

Zain had said it was surprised by the penalty and said the licence fee it had paid Iraq allowed it to build a network, use the spectrum and issue a range of SIM card numbers. “We’re fighting it legally. We’ve already submitted our legal explanation to the CMC and to the hearing committee and we’re waiting for the results,” Makiya said. “We are fully confident that this should be resolved in an easier manner than resort to the law.”

He said Zain was also in talks with AsiaCell — which earlier this month said it had stopped interconnection with subscribers of the “unlicensed lines” — to get the lines reconnected. The Iraqi government has criticised Zain and other providers for patchy coverage, but Zain blames reception problems on military jamming as security forces try to prevent militants from detonating bombs.

Makiya said operating in the Kurdish region was easier, particularly because it was safer than the rest of Iraq. “There is no interference over there like you have here in Baghdad because the region is very secure,” he said. The lack of jamming and the better infrastructure network in the Kurdish area should also improve the quality of calls, he added.

(Source: The Peninsula Qatar)

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