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General News Mon, 17 Sep 2001

Telecom Heads for Crash

If you have an engaged tone right before you press the buttons on your phone, or a voice chirps at you: The number you have dialed does not exist," or browsing on the Web is frustratingly slow, then your tribulation with the phone service, is just starting.

Some telecommunication engineers Public Agenda spoke to were blunt: "Your trouble is going to get worse if the telephone infrastructure is not modernised and improved quickly," they predicted.

The telecommunication industry in this country is heading for collapse if the present infrastructure of the main operator - Ghana Telecom is not upgraded as soon as possible, the experts warned.

"It is going to be horrendous by mid next year, if steps are not taken to avert the situation," says Philip Engmann, a telecommunications engineer and a member of the Ghana Institute of Information Technologies.

Engmann explains that the present telephone infrastructure were designed for telephony, but over time, the users of the infrastructure have been changing from telephone users to Internet users.

Engmann illustrates his explanation with what they term the "call holding time".

The "call holding time" is the average minutes a caller is expected to stay on a phone for a single call.

The telecoms engineer says a component in the telephone infrastructure, the switch, is normally designed for 20-minutes call holding time, unlike the Internet which takes a much longer time. This creates congestion, particular on very limited lines.

Presently, Ghana Telecom, the hub of the country's telephone industry, has only 200,000 lines for a population of 18.5 million.

"People everywhere are demanding Internet access, new caf?s are springing up everywhere. The system will jam. It has started already," Engmann said.

The telephony policy of the country has also somewhat contributed to the situation. The preoccupation of that policy is the provision of telephone lines, regardless of the type of equipment the operator brings in, he explained.

When Public Agenda sought the reaction of Ghana Telecom, "This is the first time I am speaking to you, so I can't grant you an interview," was the response of an official, the paper was directed to speak to. Subsequently, there was an amendment from the same source. He would speak to the paper with facts and figures later.

With all these 'wahala', what can be done to save you from the eminent telephony tribulation?

Engmann's solution is an infrastructure that supports the Internet. Going optical fibre is the best alternative to the problem. On the Internet, music and other forms of data move at the fastest speed through optical fibre.

Others like Eddie Amoakuh of Sun Microsystems, advocate that the country can make do with what it has but needs to enhance its telephone infrastructure with new technologies available.

"There is a need for a fibre optical backbone, but how do we take advantage of the existing network?" asks Amoakuh. He prescribes that new technologies like the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and the Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) to be used to enhance the system.

Dr. Benjamin Adu, a systems engineer and the CEO of Engineering Systems and Services Limited is of the same opinion. The majority of web users in most advanced countries access the Internet by dial-up (by the telephone and the copper wire), he explained. All agree that there is a need for an optical fibre infrastructural backbone to support Ghana's telecommunication systems.

"We have no choice but to meet the demands of information technology," says Adu.

"The vision of President Kufuor and his Government is to move Ghana to the level of a middle-income country with an annual GDP growth of at least eight per cent. We intend that our ICT policy framework will help us realize that vision with a minimum of three per cent GDP growth coming from ICT," Felix Kwasi Owusu-Adjapong, Transport and Communication said at a round table on the National Information Technology Policy in Accra on Tuesday.

The President's vision will come to naught, if Ghana's communication infrastructure remains the same or very minimal improvements are made, said participants at the round table.

Source: Public Agenda