Sunday, May 30, 2010

Egypt starts using top-level Arabic domain names

In May 2010, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers activated the top-level Arabic domain name ".masr" for three Egyptian companies (TE Data, InTouch and Vodafone Data). The Arabic domain name may be used in addition to the standard ".eg" and other Latin character names. "Introducing Arabic domain names is a milestone in Internet history," the Egyptian communications and IT minister, Tarek Kamel, wrote in a statement. "It will boost the number of online users in the country and enable internet services to penetrate new market segments by eliminating language barriers."

Saudi Arabia and the UAE received Arabic domain names at the same time as Egypt, while Russia was assigned the Cyrillic ".rf" the following week. ICANN reported that 21 requests have been filed for domains in 11 different languages since November, when the organisation began accepting applications.

It was high time for the inclusion of Arabic domains, as the world's 320m Arabic speakers are currently underserved by the internet. According to the Arab Media Outlook report by the Dubai Press Club and PricewaterhouseCoopers, broadband usage in the Middle East and North Africa region is expected to grow 25% annually until 2013. "Arabic content creation is set to increase drastically, with 5% of the world's population speaking Arabic and yet only 1% of internet content available in that language," Wael El Fakarany, the regional manager for Google Egypt, Saudi Arabia and North Africa, told OBG.

When it comes to putting Arabic content on the web, Egypt has assumed a leading role regionally. The Egyptian Ministry of Communications and IT's ICT Strategy 2007-10 includes an e-content programme aimed at producing Arabic internet content, with an emphasis on the cultural and intellectual. For example, in conjunction with IBM, the ministry began digital processing of Egypt's National Archives in December 2009.

The ICT sector has played a major role in the growth of the Egyptian economy during the global crisis, expanding 14.6% in the 2008-09 financial year. In contrast, the overall growth rate for the economy was just under 5% in the same period. Foreign investment into the sector has reached over $1bn annually, due in part to developed infrastructure, including the 3m-sq-metre technology park Smart Village in Cairo.

In addition to courting international IT players, the government has focused on building up a more computer-literate populace as the foundation of an information society. In February 2010, internet penetration reached 22.2%, representing more than 17m internet users, while the state has made efforts to increase this rate by lowering internet costs.

The Egyptian Education Initiative (EEI) aims to integrate ICT into schools, training the next generation of Egyptians for high-tech careers. One of the scheme's longer-term objectives is the connection of all preparatory schools to broadband by 2012. The number of Egyptian tech graduates has reached 80,000 per year, creating a large workforce for the high-value international ICT market.

With nearly 60% of its population under the age of 25 and ICT a burgeoning economic powerhouse, Egypt has good reason to continue pursuing development of the sector. "From 2010 to 2014, we will endeavour to use innovation as a primary driver for future growth," Kamel told OBG in an interview in 2009. In being among the first to receive an Arabic domain, Egypt has shown itself to be at the forefront of the Arabic internet revolution.

(Source: Oxford Business Group via Balancing Act News)