Neda Rayaneh: Slowly catching up with the rest of the world on the information superhighway
By Payman Arabshahi Seattle, Washington
Iran's entrance into the world wide data communication network known as the Internet was spearheaded some four and a half years ago by the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (IPM), under the direction of Dr. Mohammad Javad Larijani, who was also a parliament deputy at the time. The link was at first through the BITNET network and Iran's membership in the Trans-European Research and Educational Networking Association (TERENA – formerly EARN). It later developed into a full-fledged Internet link with the assignment of 500 IP addresses to the country and acceptance of Iran as a Class C node.
Over the past few years, domestic Internet connections have grown very rapidly, at times placing Iran among the top countries in terms of rate of growth of Internet access. The present Iranian Internet scene, more than four years after the original connection, is still a very dynamic one, and in many respects quite amazing – tens of thousands of users are being served via a few slow 9600 baud links, with networks and bulletin boards expanding everywhere.
One can only speculate on why Internet links to Iran are through such slow lines. The technical know-how appears to be there. A variety of protocols for satellite channels at T1 speeds of 1.544 Mb/s were tested by the Data Communication Company of Iran (DCI) in the late 1980's . At the same time one cannot discount the effect of the U.S. embargo on Iran, which has made the acquisition and maintenance of powerful servers and workstations difficult, if not impossible in certain cases. For a year or so after Iran's Internet debut, U.S. academic sites (on NSFNET) were not even recognizing Iranian IP addresses for telnet/ftp access.
It is true however that there are other technical issues to be solved other than just providing a high-speed link, and filling up rooms with high power servers. Ideally, priority in Iran should be placed on developing an internal “network of networks” first by investing in campus-wide networks at universities, and other local and wide area networks in government and industry, and then by linking them together, and eventually to the Internet. By way of an analogy, for a long time, the transatlantic connection from North America to Europe consisted of no more than a few 64 kbyte links, while both continents had very well developed internal internets.
What seems to be lacking is an overall vision for the direction of the Internet in Iran. For instance, presently, DCI has a contract with France Minitel for implementation of a similar network in Iran (to say that Minitel is obsolete is an understatement – in the age of the World Wide Web and NetPCs Minitel is irrelevant and outdated). In some respects this is similar to DCI's X.25 network plan some years ago at a time when everybody was switching from X.25 and similar protocols to TCP/IP (the protocol suite Internet uses).
Add to this blurred vision, the monopolistic views of DCI (which is an organ of the Post, Telephone and Telegraph Ministry's Telecommunications Company of Iran) in trying to force out competition (literally by cutting their lines as it happened last year temporarily with Neda Rayaneh ), and friction between DCI and IPM, the country's main academic Internet access provider, along with DCI's exorbitant charging schemes, and you arrive at a very complicated arena over which Iran's Internet services are operating.
However what is clear is that the Internet is expanding very rapidly in the country, despite the various problems, and past and present strategic mistakes. The government appears to be supportive of the effort, and no matter what happens, it is hard to imagine an Iran in the future without Internet access, at the very least for universities, research centers, and major industries.
A listing of numerous Internet points of contact in Iran is given in the Appendix. The national academic network is known as IRANET. IPM is also Iran's representative in the Trans-European Research and Educational Networking Association (TERENA).
Other universities have access to the internal Iranian internet, and to enjoy full Internet services, have to connect to IPM or their nearest Internet site. Examples are Tabriz University, Bu-Ali University (Hamedan), Kerman University, Allameh Tabatabaie University, and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences (Zanjan). Some other research centers (Iran Industrial and Scientific Research Organization for instance) have email access via AT&T mail or SprintNET. Still more sites have email and offline Internet access; see below.
The Iranian academic Internet link is via two 9600 baud lines from IPM's Microvax 3100/20E to the University of Vienna in Austria. The internal Iranian academic network consists of a series of mostly leased, (but some dialup) 9600 baud lines. There are presently only two 64 kbyte links in this star-patterned network, between two of IPM's Tehran buildings, and IPM and Guilan University.
It is estimated that at least 60,000 people have in one way or another used Internet services provided through IPM or other providers in Iran . As of April 1996 there were over 1,100 usernames defined on IPM's main server alone, many of them representing “general” accounts at various institutions, open to more than one person.
The resulting congestion, coupled with various routing problems in Vienna, has imposed a heavy burden on the slow link to Austria and there are plans to upgrade the line to 64 kbytes or higher soon. IPM's installed satellite link which can potentially operate at 2 Mb/s is technically ready. All that needs to be done for the link to become operational, is completion of the paperwork between DCI and Intelsat.
However DCI is not very eager to move fast in this regard due to the competition posed by IPM to DCI's own attempts at offering Internet services in Iran (at any price at its discretion). There is a fair amount of friction between DCI and IPM as DCI is striving to be the sole Internet provider in the country.
As of January 1996 there were at least 500 registered Internet domains with valid IP addresses in Iran. A listing of 387 fully identified domains is available upon request.
Area Served: Iran Services: Full Access (ftp/gopher/telnet/news/WWW) Personal IP, Terminal, UUCP.
Neda's services include:
Neda's BBS is free (and can be accessed from abroad also – contact Neda for the required terminal emulator and other information). The only charge is for using Internet email and offline Internet services, although Neda is considering charging for the BBS as well in the near future.
The charge for an individual account is 420,000 rials ($100) annually. Unfortunately the 40% discount for students available since Neda's inception, is being phased out. Neda's domain-name assignment service for companies wishing to have independent presence on the Iranian internet has also been suspended due to line bandwidth problems (it used to cost two million rials ($476) for having a domain name). These are flat yearly fees, i.e. there are no traffic fees involved.
Neda is looking to provide full, online connection for its users in the future.
Area Served: Iran Services: Terminal (dial-up), Web presence, personal information services.
The network was contracted to Alcatel in 1992 and uses 24 1100 PSX nodes, which enable X.25, X.28, BSC, and SNA/SDLC capabilities . The network was designed to handle some 20,000 subscribers. Internet access is through a 9600 baud link to Ontario, Canada via a X.25-TCP/IP interface machine (a Sun Sparc – dci.iran.com). The Canadian service provider is Interlog. DCI services include email and telnet/ftp/gopher/www.
DCI is planning to increase connection speed in the near future. DCI is also in the process of establishing a VSAT link (domain name dci.gulfsat.com) with GULFSAT in Kuwait (GULFSAT is the world's largest satellite data communications teleport. A VSAT hub, operated in association with GULFSAT, provides satellite-delivered international data, telephone and video communications services to local and international subscribers such as DCI ).
DCI provides both dial-up and leased lines to its users. Leased lines with a speed of 9600 bps cost 40,000 rials ($9.50) per month plus a deposit of two million rials ($476). In addition to this there are per minute charges of 20 rials ($0.005) for domestic calls and 35 rials ($0.008) for international calls. Each bit of data sent costs one rial ($0.0002) domestically and 25 rials ($0.006) internationally. Dial-up lines are cheaper: 5,000 rials ($1.19) per month and a 500,000-rial ($199) deposit, plus the usual connection time and volume charges .
It is estimated that there are about 1,000 users on DCI's network, though no official figures are available. According to a DCI study, more than 90% of government and industrial entities are in need of wide area networks to communicate with their various branches and affiliates throughout Iran. Various large governmental organizations (National Iranian Oil Company, Iran Air, Budget and Planning Organization of Iran, and the Ministry of Energy) have, with DCI's help, set up such networks with outside access to various databanks. The other 10% of governmental and/or industrial organizations are projected to additionally have the need for full Internet access .
An example of a DCI assisted outside link is the Iranian Central Bank which is now on the S.W.I.F.T. network (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) with access to some 3700 main branches of foreign banks.
Yet another large network is that of the Iranian Population Registry Organization which is implementing a network to link some 150 provincial offices comprising some 700 computer terminals.
The Budget and Planning Organization of Iran also operates a VSAT network connecting some 150 terminals in its 24 provincial offices and Tehran.
Contact information for DCI:
Area served: Iran Services: Full Access (ftp/gopher/telnet/news/WWW) personal IP, terminal.
Vira's one-time registration fee is 200,000 rials ($48) and it charges 2,200 rials ($0.52) per each mail sent or received (about 1 kb in size). Vira (Noble Inc.) numbers in Iran are:
Area Served: Iran Services: Terminal (dial-up), personal information services.
These fees do not include fees for usage of various databases abroad – those are billed separately. Presently there are some 100 users on Supaleh's network (example: Iran Industrial and Scientific Research Organization – IISRO).
Unfortunately no contact information is available at this time. Pars Supaleh's Internet email service has been suspended due to low number of subscribers (due to competition and their high prices).
IISRO has apparently set up a site for itself in Canada and is offering Internet services as well, though little more is known about this.
While most of Iran's neighbors followed suit with their own Internet links, in almost all cases they imported the expertise and the infrastructure, and to this day rely on outside assistance for routine maintenance and expansion. The fact that after Israel, Iran was the second country in the Middle East to link up to the Internet and do so relying solely on its own brainpower should not go unnoticed. It is true that there are still many problems to be addressed regarding Internet's expansion in Iran. It is also true that mistakes have been made. However by all accounts, the future of Internet access in Iran is bright, for, once again in the words of Dr. Shahshahani, “Knowledge is more important than capital in this revolution”.
Presently the following academic, government and industry sites have direct Internet access: (note: IPM is not the provider for all of these sites – some are served by the Data Communication Company of Iran, see below). IPM serves various sites through leased lines, with one exception (VSAT link to University of Guilan). DCI uses the nationwide X.25 network.
Please note that while many of the sites listed below might have good to extensive computer facilities, in general only a subset of the machines in their Local Area Network (LAN) is connected to the Internet. When mention is made of a PC, reference is almost all of the time to a 486 or higher machine.
The following sites will soon be connected to IRANET: