In what ways is TarinNet expanding Internet access in Kurdistan?
Our current target market is companies, hotels, houses, shopping malls, and restaurants. We have a point-to-point system. We put access points where possible and where people concentrate. We have network covering Erbil, Slemani, and Duhok. We do not place limits on data use, and we are quite affordable.
Where do you see opportunities in the IT sector overall in Kurdistan?
Kurdistan's IT market is new. We do not have professional, integrated companies to provide all services within the sector. There is certainly space for these companies. However, until now, the companies that come here tend to do poor work and do not maintain a permanent presence. Companies will come, invest a few million dollars, and leave. However, there is a lot of space and opportunity here. In networking especially, there are very few companies in Kurdistan that can effectively develop fiber networks in new buildings. For Internet and ISPs, the market is already fairly saturated. Between TarinNet, Newroz Telecom, GoranNet, and others, there is less space within the market for Internet provision. However, we do need other services: IPTV, VOIP, networking, intranet, data sharing, file sharing between companies or government branches or banks, web hosting, server hosting, and others.
Are you planning on investing in 4G/LTE wireless technologies, like some others seem to be doing?
No, the investment required is more than we can afford right now. Deploying 4G requires over $100 million to cover all of Kurdistan. I have a license to provide 4G, but use it for WiMAX instead. At this point, however, especially since Newroz Telecom has already begun providing it, it is too late for us to want to invest enough to compete with them. Instead, I would like to improve my business through point-to-point connections to businesses and homes. 4G is better for personal and home users, but less useful for business users. If you are a big company, you probably do not want to provide all of your employees with FastLink; it is much easier to buy a fast Internet connection which all of the employees can use. This is largely why TarinNet is so strong with business and government clients.
For foreign companies, there are very many government tenders for IT projects, as well as some tenders from major private sector companies. These provide plenty of opportunity for companies that have a permanent presence here.
What are your targets and goals for 2015?
This year we would like to really develop our fiber optic networks for our major customers. We will bring fiber to the building (FTTB) to more customers, which will speed up connections considerably. Second, we would like to open a new department specifically for networking, covering both intranet and Internet. Developing this department will take two years. There currently no companies that focus exclusively on networking, which represents a major gap in this market. Third, we would like to connect all of TarinNet's towers with fiber optic. Currently, they are connected through microwaves, but cable will speed up the connections, providing better service to our customers. This will help in renewing all of my contracts with businesses and the government. I would also like to run fiber cables to all of the government ministries.
Regarding networking investment, are you looking to go into partnerships with foreign companies, or do you plan to work individually?
We currently have a partnership with B2MB, which is an affiliate of Cisco. However, the company I would like to create would be much broader than what Cisco currently offers. Finding competent companies in this market is, unfortunately, a challenge as well—you must really be able to judge the competence of companies before you go into business with them. Not everyone wants to come here, and many that do will inflate their capabilities beyond what they are actually capable of. It becomes challenging to find out which companies really do come with expertise and professionalism. To some degree, this is also related to the nascent nature of this market; lots of new companies come here, and the poor ones have not yet left.
What advice would you give foreign ICT companies considering entering the Kurdistan market?
For foreign companies, there are very many government tenders for IT projects, as well as some tenders from major private sector companies. These provide plenty of opportunity for companies that have a permanent presence here. To invest, they must work with local companies to liaise with the ministries and understand the market well. There are many local companies that are happy to partner with foreign companies for these purposes. Many companies are doing this to connect the major gated communities with IPTV, VOIP, and other services. It is much more challenging in older construction, but in many of the new ones, it is easier. Bureaucratically is it easier as well, because the compounds are owned by individuals and not under municipal regulation, so doing business with them is easier. As Kurdistan continues to develop, opportunities such as this will only increase.