Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Wireless Communication Thrives in Afghanistan

World Press has an interesting article about the rapid growth of a wireless network in Afghanistan. Link.
Before the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, 27 million Afghan citizens had to make do with approximately 20,000 working telephone lines. Domestic connections were spotty, while only a handful of expensive satellite phones could dial internationally. Today, through the extraordinary efforts of the Afghan Wireless Communication Company and its parent company, Telephone Systems International (TSI), more than 300,000 citizens subscribe to the Afghan wireless network, with coverage in twenty cities and an additional twenty cities slated for service by the end of the summer.

The development of the Afghan wireless network has been the mission of Ehsan Bayat, an Afghan-American who fled Afghanistan in 1980. Observing the need for a comprehensive communications network in Afghanistan, Bayat partnered his United States-based company, TSI, with the Afghan Ministry of Communications to launch a wireless network that Bayat hopes will be “the digital artery of our nation, allowing communication, commerce, and electronic exchanges to flow easily among all Afghans.”

This digital network “leaves no part of Afghanistan untouched,” according to Bayat, who adds “by the end of the summer, we will have three-quarters of the nation covered.” The speed with which TSI and Afghan Wireless have been able to build the mobile network has made it the provider of choice for government agencies and businesses, especially in and around Kabul. Afghan Wireless provided the communications support for the Loya Jirga meetings that formed the interim Afghan administration, and opened Kabul’s first-ever public Internet cafe in 2002. The police and fire departments in Kabul have received free telephones for emergency service support.

Demand for private service has been much greater than anticipated, but TSI has consistently devoted more resources to accommodate demand, while simultaneously expanding service throughout the country.

Afghanistan has a long history of tribalism, at least for the people who do not live in large cities. Its people were members of their tribe first, and Afghanistanis second. This isn't necessarily because people chose tribalism, but because the tribes were separated and there was limited communication between members of the separate tribes.

Communications is probably the single greatest key to uniting the members of the diverse tribes into one nation. This wireless network will make it as easy to talk with someone elsewhere in the country as with one's neighbor. The rapid growth of the network means that Afghanistanis accept it and want it, and that is a very optimistic sign for the future of the country.


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