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Afghanistan's capital will soon have second cell phone operator - 2003-06-26

Thursday, 2003, June 26
Todd Pitman

An international consortium began testing a new cellular network in the Afghan capital on Thursday and will soon launch commercial services that will break a telecommunications monopoly. Telecom Development Company Afghanistan Ltd., an Afghan company owned by several international investors, made the announcement in Kabul after Afghan Communications Minister Masoom Stanekzai made the first call on the network. 'This telephone call is an important one because it symbolizes what is being done to help this country,' Stanekzai said. The move will break the monopoly held by Afghan Wireless Communication Co., or AWCC, which launched the first mobile phone network just over a year ago. AWCC has been overwhelmed with tens of thousands of customers and severe network congestion means calls are difficult to make and often last just a few seconds. The new wireless phone service will be called Roshan, which means 'light' in Afghanistan's two main languages, Dari and Pashtu. The company's chief executive officer, Karim Khoja, said services would start soon in six main cities _ Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kunduz. No date has been set, but the test phase will last between four to six weeks, Khoja said. The government awarded the new wireless network contract in October. The consortium is led by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, which controls 51 percent. Other investors include Monaco Telecom International (35 percent), the U.S.-based MCT Corp. (9 percent) and France's Alcatel (5 percent). The service is being launched with an initial investment of US$55 million. AWCC is a partnership between the government and New Jersey-based Telephone Systems International. It functions in Kabul and several other cities, including Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. Cell phones are widely used in Kabul by people ranging from government ministers to money changers. But they remain unaffordable for the majority of residents. There are just 12,000 functioning land-lines in Kabul, a city approaching 2 million people. About 7,000 of the lines belong to analog telephones, while another 5,000 phones function on a digital system set up several years ago under the former Taliban regime. Copyright (c) 2003, The Associated Press

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