x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Egypt plans back-up for internet service cuts

Egypt's technology industry is planning for a back up system in case services are disrupted.

The state agency behind Egypt's technology industry is planning to lease private internet connections from the US and Europe in an effort to end costly service cuts.

Internet service was cut off for five days during the recent street protests in Egypt, costing local and international companies millions of dollars in revenue.

Egypt's information technology industry development agency (Itida), a government department that facilitates foreign investment in the country's technology sector, is looking into plans for a backup system that would be switched on if service failed in the future.

Planners are considering link-ups with private internet connections from abroad.

"Our role is to react very fast and in cases like [the protests], you cannot isolate yourself and ignore it. You have to make the best of what you've got," said Khaled Ismail, an Itida board member and the chief executive of SySDSoft, on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress last week in Barcelona.

Egypt's call centres relied heavily on internet telephony, Mr Ismail said, adding: "It's low-cost and very good for call centres, but no one expected the internet to be cut so severely."

The plans would be unveiled at Itida's next board meeting and were expected to be accepted, Mr Ismail said.

"These [connections] would be high-bandwidth and allow Itida to be able to give local or multinational companies internet," he said.

"Under normal circumstances we'd [not] use them, but they would be our fall-back in panic situations."

Many international technology companies in Cairo, including IBM, Vodafone, Orange Business Services, Oracle and Satyam have opened outsourcing offices through Itida.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated the shutdown of internet and other communications directly cost Egypt's economy at least US$90 million (Dh330.5m). Itida's outsourcing revenue fell by about $3m each day it could not operate.

The loss of $90m was attributed to "blocked telecommunications and internet services, which account for around $18m per day - or, on a yearly scale, for roughly 3 to 4 per cent of GDP", the OECD said.

Despite the losses, protesters' use of social media to organise demonstrations has drawn attention to the country's technology sector.

Mr Ismail said that since the street protests he had had serious talks with several major telecommunications companies interested in opening offices in Egypt.

"All of a sudden, people who did not know what Egypt is about or what they are doing saw everything happening on TV," Mr Ismail said. "It was an eye-opener for [companies].

"What happened in the past two weeks gave us more exposure than any public relations we've done."