The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.

Telecommunication development in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is among the leading countries in the region, in the field of communications.
. Today, Afghanistan’s ICT sector investment stands at almost $3 Billion USD. ICT firms in the country now contribute more than 16% of total domestic revenues. Currently there are five active telecom service providers and 64 licensed Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Afghanistan, including the state-owned fixed-line operator Afghan Telecom and the four mobile (GSM) operators AWCC, Roshan, MTN and Etisalat. Spurred by the expansion of mobile services, More than 90% of the national population have mobile coverage. 70% of the population have 2G coverage, 43% of the population have 3G coverage and 15% of the population have 4G coverage. Total GSM subscribers are 37 million. No of Landline subscribers are 159,000. More than 94 TV Operators and 335 FM Radio Operators are active in the country.
The telecom sector has generated over 185,000 direct and indirect job opportunities throughout the country. The establishment of the country-wide microwave network of more than 7668 telecom base stations (BTS sites) serves as the main backbone for mobile services and wireless connectivity. It is worth noting that in order to promote rural access to telecom services the ATRA has constructed 850 telecom base stations using the Telecommunications Development Fund (TDF) under the Universal Access Program (UAP).
Historical Background: The journey of telecommunication in Afghanistan began with the installation of a Simdarmanul telephone at the Palace of the ARG of Kabul in 1898.
In 1908, a small telephone system with a capacity of 25 lanes was installed to the north of the ARG. Telegraph services was another type of telecommunication facility launched in Afghanistan in 1914.  At the same time, the station was installed in Kabul with capacity of 20 kilowatt, connecting Kabul to Paris via the first radio. The first automatic telephone machine was 1200 Lane and was purchased from the Tesla Company of Czechoslovakia, which was opened at the former headquarters of the Ministry of Telecommunications located at the Poll-e-baghe Umami. In 1955, the center automation system was activated with the help of Ziemens West Germany company with a capacity of 5,000 Lines.
Later, in 1967, the machines of the Kart-e-char and Shahr-e-naw, each with a capacity of 3,000 lines, were assisted by the West Germany and by their specialists.
In the next step, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Kandahar machines were installed at 1,500 lanes each, followed by automatic machines of the Kheirkhana and Makrarian, each with a capacity of 3,000 lines in 1977 with the help of the West Germany. In the mid-1970s, basic telecommunication services, including telephone and telegraph services, were available at the level of districts and in the local places.
Although the telecommunication system mostly limited to some parts and agency of the government, local people had also limited access to these services.
In the 1980 and 1990 the soviet invasion destroyed not only the infrastructure and wealth of Afghanistan, but also destroyed and exhausted many of the telecommunication systems in the country.
Golden Era of Telecom: Then comes the golden era of the telecommunication in Afghanistan. Since 2001, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology has been among the first Afghan agencies to arrange public sector policies and strategies for the telecom sector so that the company and private offices to invest in the telecommunications sector and to deploy telecommunication systems. Since then, Afghan wireless, Roshan, MTN, Etisalat and Public Networks such as Afghan Telecom and Salam started their operation after each other’s.
These companies, which were invested a huge amount of capital, quickly developed in close competition.
Today, more than 90% of the geography of the country is covered by the telecommunications network.
While Afghan citizens must be credited for the rapid demand-driven growth in the telecom sector as the end-users and buyers of these services, investors have played a major role in building the basic infrastructure. In addition, the Afghan Government and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) in particular, have played a very positive role as a facilitator, policymaker, regulator and builder of infrastructure.
Past challenges in the sector: Since 2001, With the rapid growth of telecommunication sector, especially in the mobile phone network, there were challenges also in telecom sectors that prevented the implementation of policies and plans of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, and prevented a balanced growth of telecommunications in the country.
The most important challenges were: Security which was one of the key factors which impacted the expansion of telecommunication in the country. Telecommunications systems in remote areas without security is impossible. More than 1000 telecom towers were not allowed to operate 24/7. 890 telecom towers were destroyed during the war. Also, the expansions of the fiber optic network throughout Afghanistan was disturbed during the war. Telecom companies have to secure their communications antenna by hiring security guards and bear additional costs. Another challenge was the Corruption: The lack of capacity and the existence of corruption have led to the loss in the revenue for the government from telecom sector.
The high rate of prices: Telecommunication services with significant advances in Afghanistan are still priced higher than in the region and low quality services.
Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest countries in the world, and almost 50% of the population is below the poverty line, so that all citizens of the country cannot use it because of the higher rates.
Current Reforms:
· More than 1000 telecom towers which was not operating 24/7 due to the war is fully operational.
· More than one thousand towers were destroyed during the war, most of them are reconstructed and operational.
· National level fiber policy was established for the first time by MCIT.
· A very productive SIM registration regulations was made and implemented by the MNO’s.
· After the analysis of the revenues of MNO’s, ATRA has announced new tariff for calling and internet bundles. On-Net call rate will be 1.85 Afs, Off-Net Call Rate will be 2.2 Afs. 1Gb internet price will be around 110 Afs.
Ongoing Projects:
· RTD-BTS Project 10: The aim of the project is to built telecom towers from the TDF budget of ATRA. 400 sites are selected in the rural areas in the country. ATRA has already built more the 850 sites from the TDF budget all over the country.
· Spectrum Monitoring System (SMS): This system has to be brought into the market to monitor all the spectrum bands specifically HF, VHF, UHF and SHF. This will require extending the heavily used from 9 KHz till 3 GHz to the less-used 3 GHz till 40 GHz and above.
ATRA is responsible to manage these spectrums to avoid spectrum interference in the country but it has not been doing so as optimally as it needs to so that spectrum re-farming as per the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) regulations.
· Real Time Data Management System (RTDMS), on which 10% tax of the telecommunication is collected, needs to be procured and operationalized as soon as possible to ensure government revenues collection.
· Mobile number portability (MNP) is a service that allows a cellphone or smartphone customer to change telecom carrier and keep the same phone number. It’s currently in the procurement process.
· E-Band: The E-band represents the frequency range from 60 GHz to 90 GHz. These short wavelengths give signals at these frequency directional properties and thus this band is widely used for RF/Microwave backhaul links. Soon, ATRA will give E-band frequency to the mobile network operators which will have impact on the quality of service in the country. Jalal Shams

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The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.