Satellite services and hardware provider Globecomm was honored by the Society of Satellite Professionals for giving the troubled nation of Afghanistan a shot at a better future (SpaceNews Paris bureau chief Peter B. de Selding was honored for helping explain a complex industry to the world).
Globecomm and Afghan Telecom developed the Village Communication Network (VCN) to provide communication access for the Afghani people in county’s many isolated regions.
In the past seven years, the network has grown from barely 200 sites to well over 1,000. Before the existence of the VCN, most villagers had to travel up to three days to get to the nearest telephone. With VCN terminals, often solar-powered, they now have connectivity right in their own villages.
The VCN is only the latest way that Globecomm and aid agencies are striving to build a better future in a nation left divided, decimated and impoverished by decades of war.
In 2003, the company won a World Bank contract to create a Government Communications Network (GCN) to provide voice and data services to 52 government offices in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, and 24 provincial capitals. A combination of C-band satellite, optical fiber and microwave links gave the central government its first reliable telephone and email communications with the provinces, and let provincial leaders influence national policy without the risky and expensive journey to Kabul.
As the project got underway, Globecomm learned that the Ministry of Communications had, under a separate contract, purchased switches for mobile service from a Chinese company. The switches had become the core of “telecom islands” — cities where it was possible to make a local mobile phone call but with no access to other places. The ministry asked Globecomm what the company could do to change that.
What was originally planned to be a private network rapidly became a public one. Globecomm, in effect, became the backbone for a public telephone system, connected by satellite to other cities over the GCN and, through an international gateway, to the rest of the world. The network was completed in time to support Afghanistan’s 2004 election, which made purple-ink-stained fingers a symbol for the blooming of democracy.
The proudest legacy of the projects is the collection of assets they have left behind. With each new network, Afghan Telecom gained assets, which improved its ability to attract outside investment and keep raising the quality of Afghani communications. Just as important, Globecomm’s Afghan partner company, Watan Telecom, trained Afghans to install and maintain the networks. Together, they built the capacity of Afghan workers and transferred enough technology ‘know how’ for Afghan to support programs as they moved from deployment to operations.
Satellites are no substitute for peace and security — but they have proven uniquely capable of pushing back against the forces that still threaten a darker future for a troubled nation.
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