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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 08:47 GMT
Afghanistan joins mobile age
Kabul is largely in ruins
Afghanistan has almost no fixed lines telephones
Afghanistan is joining the mobile phone revolution, even though the war-ravaged country has almost no telephones and barely a notion of computers, let alone the internet.

The Afghan Wireless Communications Company has started to install a mobile phone system in the capital, Kabul.

It expects to make the first test calls in the next couple of weeks and have an international calls available by the end of March.

"By moving straight to wireless technology, we can bypass all the interim stages," explained Gavin Jeffery of the Afghan Wireless Communications Company, (AWCC).

"What we will have is state of the art technology, straight from the beginning," he told the BBC programme, Go Digital.

Telecoms lifeline

Improving the telecommunications infrastructure in Afghanistan is important for personal as well as commercial reasons.

Using the telephone in Afghanistan
Telephones can be a lifeline
Afghanistan has the largest refugee population in the world and a phone could provide a valuable lifeline to relatives at home.

It is only in recent years that it became possible to make an international call through a public call centre in Kabul.

Before that, people used to travel to neighbouring Pakistan to make the calls.

"There is very little left of the existing fixed telephone network and we are providing international access on those few lines," said Mr Jeffery.

"The key reason for putting a mobile system in place is because there is no fixed line network. The mobile network will provide the basic telecommunications that would be provided by a fixed line."

Going online

The AWCC also has ambitious plan to re-introduce the internet to Afghanistan by setting up a data network.

It envisages internet cafes springing up to cope with demand for e-mail and web browsing.

But with the country in tatters, it may be some time before its use becomes widespread.

"Obvious there are concerns culturally about access to the internet, not only in Afghanistan but also worldwide," said Mr Jeffery.

When the former Islamic rulers, the Taleban, banned the internet there were no reliable figures on the number of people online in Afghanistan.

Those that had internet access tended to go online using telephone lines provided by neighbouring Pakistan.

Afghanistan is following in the footsteps of many developing countries which have embraced mobile phone technology.

Mobile phone use is booming across the world. Leading mobile device manufacturer Ericsson has predicts that almost one billion people will have mobiles by the end of the year.

China is currently the largest mobile phone market in the world with 130 million users, followed by the US with 124 million users.

See also:

17 Jan 00 | South Asia
Afghanistan gets connected
15 Jan 02 | South Asia
Rebuilding war-torn lives
22 Jan 02 | South Asia
Priorities for rebuilding Afghanistan
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