- Egypt has previously been named as one of the top startup hubs in the region.
- However, the country's entrepreneurs are struggling due to slow internet speeds and high costs.
- Egypt has some of the slowest internet speeds on earth, according to US metrics firm, Ookla.
- Yet, the government has done little to improve the country's internet infrastructure or lower costs.
Entrepreneurs and startups in Egypt risk getting left behind as achingly slow internet speeds and sky-high costs leave them stuck in the slow lane.
In recent years, Egypt’s young dynamic population has made the country one of the leading start-up hubs in the Middle East.
The country’s reputation as a great place to build a start-up has been touted by some big names including Richard Branson’s Virgin, which listed Cairo as one of the top startup hubs on the planet.
However, what international firms often fail to mention are the difficulties faced by startups in getting - and staying - connected online.
Mohammed Helmy is the operations manager for Elves - a Cairo-based AI startup, which uses the internet to deliver everyday goods and carry out chores to customers at home.
“We face a lot of challenges with the internet in Egypt. The companies are really bad, the customer service is terrible and they don’t understand how important the internet is for us. They really don’t care,” he told Al Bawaba News.
Staying online is vital for Helmy and his team as all of their business is conducted online. However, the poor state of the service means that the firm is forced to take drastic measures just to maintain a connection.
“I use multiple vendors when it comes to the internet because I always need a backup so if one isn’t working then I use another.
However, I have issues with them all. Some are really expensive, others are slow and other vendors have terrible customer service,” he said.
A study by Ookla, a US-based data analytics firm ranked Egypt at 146 out of 150 countries for broadband speeds.
Egypt’s fixed broadband was faster than only Libya in the North Africa region.
Meanwhile, the country’s mobile internet was only faster than Algeria and Sudan and came in at 95 globally.
Despite the slow service, the prices remain high on the lines, nearly all of which are owned by the state and leased to resellers such as Vodafone and Orange at a fixed rate.
High costs and limited competition are making life difficult for those with big ideas in Egypt.
“A lot of startups are managing everything from a flat or a stand-alone villa rather than commercial premises,” Helmy said.
“For a startup like Elves, we can’t use the internet for even a minute. If people are chatting with us and we aren’t replying because there is no internet, that really isn’t an excuse I can’t tell a user, “sorry there is no internet,” he added.
Despite the ongoing problems, the government has done little to make the internet - on which it holds a near-monopoly - affordable or accessible for entrepreneurs who may wish to launch a new business or idea in Egypt.
Instead, the government is funneling cash into boosting tourism and attempting to attract investors from abroad.
Meanwhile, the best resources, such as fiber optic connections are allocated to major international firms with little interest shown by the ruling elite in the country’s smaller tech-based startups.
“For sure, if the internet was better our lives would be easier,” Helmy said.
“When I used to work in corporate companies, they had fiber optics and the internet was totally fine. We have a lot of small startups in Egypt and they are screwed up right now,” he added.
However, Helmy isn’t alone in his criticisms of the country’s internet services.
A founder at another Cairo-based tech firm said that reliable internet is a huge problem for the country’s fledgling entrepreneurs.
"Many of today’s startups don’t have a lot of budget or resources so they have to spend a lot of money to have good internet access,” he said.
“They don’t have a choice or else they will spend their time on the phone complaining to customer services,” he added.
However, Helmy hopes that the situation may improve as the government is now realizing the potential of the startup scene for the country’s ailing economy.
“I think the government understands what it means to have entrepreneurs in the country because we make money out of nothing,” he said.
“The government can make life much easier for startups by improving the internet infrastructure and pricing, there is no doubt about it. If they are trying to move forward in Egypt then we need to have reliable internet because that is the future,” he added.
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