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Opinions of Friday, 20 December 2002

Columnist: Agyeman, Harry

XDSL: Not really our solution yet

It is all good Philip Engmann detailing the massive theoretical advantages of DSL for Ghana's development (xDSL: A Solution for the Minister of Education and Ghana ). Like most things they sound very good conceptually but the devil in always in the practicalities. Indeed DSL will help Ghana overcome some of the telephony problems facing it at the moment but has the country got the infrastructure and resources to develop such a concept for the country?

As someone said sometime ago certain communities have not even mastered the 20th century but all of a sudden they want to be major players in the 21st century. Ghana hasn't even mastered the concept of telephones and Internet individually and all of a sudden we want to combine the two with all the Value Added Services (VAS) that comes with it. With "mastering" I don't mean the ability to use it but rather making full use it. Our history and development is littered with so much "bit part" end user participation without actually understanding and maximising the capabilities and potential of certain technologies.

To get the country ready for a DSL services we will need new switches with robust SCPs capable of delivering the VAS that will come with DSL. I mean we might as well maximise all that comes with DSL if we are going to go for it. We shouldn't forget that DSL would mean Ghanaians can watch video on demand through their PCs and yet we haven't mastered PC TV. Have we even actually grasped the concept of voice mailboxes? Well these new switches will give us the ability to dabble in Unifying Messaging Systems (UMS). UMS will enable us to interchange messages between PC, fax and telephone, yet have we maximised the capabilities and potential of the individual medium?

What about cabling? DSL means the existing telephone cables (copper wire?) needs to be "jumped" to allow data and voice to transmit on it at the same time. This is how we will be able to "surf" the net and talk on our phones at the same time. I will encourage the extension of the current cabling to more rural areas for normal PSTN use first before the advent of DSL. DSL cabling suffers easily from QoS when it travels beyond certain distances. The current QoS of our telephone network is not world standard and instead of developing it for the whole country to enjoy, we are to embark on DSL, which only a few of the world's most developed nations are using? Even coverage of DSL in these countries is not nation-wide. It only covers some metropolitan areas.

There are other networks elements within the DSL design like PoPs, SPS, DSLAM (a CPE beyond the last mile that integrates voice and data) which must be considered to have a full-blown operational DSL network. Once again if we haven't mastered current PSTN operations do we really have to jump to a whole new technology? Can we please try and give all Ghanaians access to the telephone and Internet first before we try and combine the two to homes and offices. Half knowledge and use of technology is not the way a whole country should develop and as such shouldn't be a government policy or intent to support businesses to embark on such a development nation-wide.

The whole concept of DSL will eventually reduce the volume of cabling and telephone line connections in the country as well as combining the delivering of an integrated voice and data service over the same line. I think Ghana's problem is the opposite of this. Ghana Telecoms remit was the mass connection of telephone lines within the country. Taking on DSL won't change this, but it will mean our whole telephone network will be reviewed which will slow down the current intent of mass telephone connection. We all know we cannot combine the two (mass connection and DSL deployment) at the same time, so let's finish first things first before we embark on secondary things. After all once the whole country is wired we can try and roll over DSL on this. DSL is not a priority for Ghana now.

If telephone cost is the problem of delivering computer training in the country, then the government should intervene with incentive like tax breaks, tax holidays etc for the telephone operators to cushion the problem.


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