Afghanistan’s mobile operators welcome 3G licences as a boost to the market and the customer
In what has certainly been a challenging task, Afghanistan has built some positive momentum in its effort to put national telecom infrastructure in place and to offer effective telecom service throughout the country. The process involved in achieving this, however, has not been a smooth one. By end-2001, as a result of the US-led military action, the Taliban had been removed from power and a broad-based transitional government was established. The 2001 war in Afghanistan destroyed telecommunications infrastructure that had already been suffering serious disrepair due to neglect by the pre-war Taliban government. The nation’s network of telephone lines was left barely functioning. There were only 12,000 telephones in the capital city, Kabul, with its population of almost 2 million residents.
By 2003 recovery had commenced. In an important strategic move, the government announced in 2005 that licences were to be issued to allow the private sector to establish independent telephone companies. This initiative was called the Local Fixed Services Plan (LFSP). The main objectives of the LFSP licences were to facilitate faster rollout of services to small towns and rural areas and to provide an investment opportunity for small-medium local investors across the country.
The other major impact on telecommunications in Afghanistan came with the introduction and subsequent expansion of the mobile telephone service. In 2003, growing off a low subscriber base, the country’s mobile network operated exclusively at the time by the Afghan Wireless Communications Company (AWCC), started to attract customers at an extraordinary rate. The launch of a second mobile service, operated by Roshan, boosted the market even further and strong subscriber growth continued through 2004 and into 2005. Coming into 2013 there were four major mobile operators (and one minor one) competing in Afghanistan’s telecom sector; between them they were claiming a total of over 20 million subscribers, representing an overall mobile penetration of 67%. All four of the major operators were carrying market shares in excess of 20%.
By 2012 internet penetration remained generally low throughout Afghanistan. With internet access relying heavily on dial-up services and only around 3,000 broadband subscribers in place, the online segment of the market was looking for a boost. With the country’s 20 million mobile subscribers, newly issued 3G licences offered a special opportunity for delivering mobile broadband to Afghanistan’s population.
The political and civil stability of the country remains a big question; it is of course a constant threat to effectiveness of the telecommunications network and the viability of the telecommunications sector. The certainly does appear to be a will to secure the future of telecommunications in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan – key telecom parameters – 2012 - 2013
Category | 2012 | 2013 (e)
Fixed-line services: | |
Total number of subscribers | 254,000 | 300,000
Internet: | |
Total number of fixed subscribers (e) | 150,000 | 180,000
Mobile services: | |
Total number of subscribers | 20.4 million | 22.0 million
Afghanistan’s mobile market continued on its positive expansion path in 2012, with an annual growth rate of 16% coming into 2013;
With mobile market continues to demonstrate considerable resilience, reaching 67% penetration in what has been a most difficult environment;
The country’s four major mobile operators continue to provide healthy and energetic competition in the mobile market, with all four operators being well represented in terms of market share (all four have at least 20% of the total subscriber base);
Most significantly, ATRA, the telecom regulator, started issuing 3G licences in 2012 and by year-end three of the existing operators had been assigned.
The country’s internet market is growing steadily (although available statistics to support this pattern are limited); with a major surge in internet users reported by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2009, there was finally a positive mood surrounding longer term internet growth;
The advent of 3G mobile services in 2012 was expected to be a boost to internet access with the substantial offering of mobile broadband services;
On a broader front, however, the ongoing political and civil unrest continues to be of concern to the country and its people, with any deterioration in the situation certainly having an impact on the telecom sector;
In this regard, the withdrawal of foreign troops over the coming year or so may cause some winding back in foreign investment and even the withdrawal from the market of some foreign companies.
This report provides an overview of the trends and developments in the telecommunications markets in Afghanistan.
Subjects covered include:
Market and industry overviews;
Regulatory environment and developments;
Mobile market – voice and data;
Internet and the broadband market;
Operators – mobile and fixed;
Scenario forecasts (fixed, internet, mobile subscribers).