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Coalition Plans Wireless System in Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2003 – A DoD official spoke today about coalition plans to let contracts for a cellular phone system and to reconstruct the telecommunications system in Iraq.

Linton Wells II, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration, told Pentagon reporters that the cell phone system could be up and running by November.

Telecommunications systems support all ongoing reconstruction efforts in Iraq: security, restoration of essential services, government, economy and the internationalization of the coalition effort. Iraq has never had a cell phone network, Wells said. The former regime put in 320 cell phone towers, but never followed through with service.

DoD officials said the winning bidders may build off any of the old facilities in their regions. "The objective is to return the Iraqi telecommunications system to its pre-war activity to enable government operations, but also to introduce advanced technologies," Wells said.

There is limited cell phone service in the Baghdad area. A rudimentary service was installed in May and members of the Coalition Provincial Authority and Iraqi officials can now communicate in the city.

There will be three regional cell network contracts awarded. This will ensure the whole country gets coverage. Wells said with one contract there would be the temptation to just cover Baghdad and the larger cities. By breaking it into three regional contracts, he said he hopes smaller cities and towns will get communications.

Wells said he assessed the communications needs on a recent trip to Iraq. He noted the coalition military is still operating off tactical communications systems they used to fight the war. He said plans must be made to place some normal military usage on the civilian system.

Currently, there is limited land-line service in Iraq, Wells said. Telecommunications switches were damaged in the war, but they are under repair. There are 3,000 kilometers of fiber-optic cables in the country, but they have been targets of sabotage.

Wells said he expects to have the wireless contracts signed in early September.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLinton Wells II, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration, told Pentagon reporters Aug. 1 that an Iraq-wide cell phone system could be up and running by November.  
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