Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pressing +964 frequently

Although everyone working in Iraq owns a cellphone, communicating with staff in other parts of the country is very difficult. The poor reception is not the major problem.

As I understand it, there are four cell phone networks operating in Iraq. Each has a different area of coverage. When the CPA arrived, it designated the south for a network called Atheer. It was decided that the central region, including Baghdad, would be operated by Iraqna, which is owned by the Egyptian company, Orascom. In the north, both Kurdish factions have their own networks. Barzani's family owns a company that operates the Korek network used in and around Arbil. Phones in the PUK-controlled areas, such as Sulaymaniya, run on AsiaCell.

Depending on the network, the cellphone might work outside its designated area. An Atheer cellphone can be used in Baghdad to call another Atheer number in Basra. Calls between networks require making an out of country call, so it requires fewer digits to call Arbil from Baghdad than to call the US. My Arabic has slightly improved from memorizing the "you've dialed a wrong number" message that I hear in Arabic. I regularly forget to remove the zero after entering the country code.

One way to remedy this problem is to use Skype, which is free and often has a clearer connection than Iraqi cellphones. Unfortunately, all of our staff do not use Skype.


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