, HELSINKI, Nov 2 – Finnish-German telecom equipment maker Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) said Tuesday it would upgrade and expand a wireless network in Afghanistan, where the number of mobile subscribers has gone from zero to 17 million in eight years.
"Afghanistan\’s current mobile penetration is around 57 percent. This shows the great strides the country has taken since 2002 when there were no phones in the country," NSN said in a statement.
The company said it had signed a deal with Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC) for a non-disclosed amount to help "modernise and expand" the operator\’s second generation GSM-GPRS network, especially in rural areas.
AWCC is one of five operators in Afghanistan. The others are Afghan Telecom, Roshan, Etisalat and MTN, according to the Afghanistan Telecommunication Operators\’ Social Association (ATOSA), which was created in April.
Nonetheless, "there remains a clear opportunity to expand into the underserved parts of the country and reach a larger segment of the rural population," NSN said.
According to ATOSA, the telecom sector has swelled to become Afghanistan\’s top tax payer, pumping 500 million dollars (360 million euros) into state coffers since the fall of the Taliban at the end of 2001, amounting to about 10 percent of the war-torn country\’s domestic budget revenues.
Taliban insurgents often target telecommunications networks in an attempt to block communications, and NATO forces stationed in the country also sometimes cut lines at night to hinder Taliban fighters from communicating.
No wireless networks existed in Afghanistan during the years of Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001, but since then mobile phones have in many places become the sole means of communication in the mountainous country, where fixed line networks have never made it beyond the large towns.