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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ingushetia Blazes Digital Territory

NAZRAN, Ingushetia -- Aslan Khashagulgov, head of Ingushetia's Magas fund, which helps disabled children and refugees, communicates with his partners in Germany and Turkey through the Internet -- when it works.

"The Internet connection lasts for exactly 18 1/2 minutes. This is not enough time to download some of the files that we need," Khashagulgov said.

The fault lies with the old analog telephone station, the only Internet provider in a republic where less than two percent of the population has a land line.

His connection will become more dependable Sept. 1, when Ingushetia plans to switch over fully from analog to digital, with its improved security and quality as well as lower upkeep costs.

"We are about to become the only Russian region that has only digital communications. Even in Moscow there are still analog telephone stations," said Vakha Chakhkiyev, first deputy director of Ingushetia's telecommunications agency.

The move will also allow better telephone access in the republic, which in 1993 just after separating from Chechnya had a mere 2,000 telephone subscribers, who could only make local calls, Chakhkiyev said.

Installation of the new system began at Ingushetia's telephone station in Nazran in 2001. Half of the old, Latvian-made Kvant communication system -- racks of electronic plates, which are the height of two men and fill a room the size of a basketball court -- has already been demolished.

The remaining half will be replaced by a single rack of digital equipment this month. The new Evrokvant system, 30 times smaller than the old station, will take up only one corner of the room.

"In the past, during bad weather, as soon as lightning struck up to 500 numbers could get disconnected," said Fatima Bogatyreva, an engineer who has been working at the telephone station ever since Kvant was installed.

According to Chakhkiyev, the new equipment will allow for 1,000 new telephone subscribers, though only in lowland villages. The mountain regions will not get access yet, he said.

"You cannot even lay cable in places like the Assinovskoye Gorge," he said.

A wireless network, however, could offer a solution.

"We are going to install base stations in the mountains and employ the CDMA standard for connection," Chakhkiyev said.

The CDMA standard was picked because it is almost half as expensive as the more widespread GSM, only slightly more expensive than regular cable, and still high quality, he added.

"Northern Ossetia, which has terrain that is identical to ours, has been using this system for their phones for three or four years," Chakhkiyev said. "But it is impossible until we make the switch to digital connection."

Both ITT, the largest communications company in the republic, and its nearest rival, mobile giant Megafon, said going digital should encourage growth in the telecom market in Ingushetia.

"High-quality digital connection is a necessity for the telecommunication services that we offer," said Pavel Mikhalyov, a senior engineer with ITT.

"We are independent from the city telephone station, but one of our rates includes a city phone number, which is not only cheaper but also makes local calls easier," said Timur Marziyev, a manager with Megafon in Ingushetia.

Magomed Ozdoyev, a network analyst with IngMobil company, said the development of wireless communications in the area has been hampered by a special decree that prohibits the use of cellular phones within 100 kilometers of ongoing counterterrorist operations.

"Technically, Megafon's operations in the republic are semilegal," Ozdoyev said.

The proximity to Chechnya is another reason to introduce a digital connection. During the Nord-Ost hostage crisis, there were rumors that the terrorists made calls to cellular phones in Ingushetia. After the republic makes a switch to digital, it will be possible to track all calls in real time.