The Iraqi telecoms market is characterised by an underdeveloped fixed-line network and strong growth in mobile use. The average annual increase in the number of mobile subscribers between 2006 and 2011 was more than 22 per cent, according to the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union.
Even so, the number of mobile phones for every 100 people was still only around 78 at the end of 2011, which makes it among the lowest in the region. Only Iran, Sudan, Syria and Yemen have lower penetration rates. All the GCC countries, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, have penetration rates of more than 100 per cent.
At the moment, Zain Iraq is the market leader. However, Asiacell has posted far faster growth in revenues and profits than its larger rival in recent years. As more sophisticated data services are introduced, revenues and profits should rise even further.
In addition, if greater stability emerges in Iraq, the pace of economic activity is likely to pick up. The expected rise in oil output over the coming decade could, if well managed, bring about an economic renaissance for Iraq, which should benefit most sectors of the economy. This ought to translate into more demand for mobile services as more people are able to afford their own phone.
Even if there is a return to instability, demand for mobile telecoms could prove more resilient than for many other services.
Asiacell has stolen a march on its rivals by becoming the first of the three operators to successfully list on the stock market. The other two should follow in the coming months, but the opportunities for all of them look promising in the coming years.