Afghanistan operators rolling out 3G networks potentially delivering big boost for internet access
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 2014 there were four major mobile operators (and one minor one) competing in Afghanistan’s telecom sector; between them they were claiming a total of just over 20 million subscribers, representing an overall mobile penetration of 68%. All four of the major operators were carrying estimated market shares in excess of 20%.
In the meantime, internet penetration remained generally low throughout Afghanistan. With internet access relying heavily on dial-up services and only around 3,500 broadband subscribers in place, the online segment of the market was looking for a boost. The boost had come in the form of 3G mobile licences. The newly launched 3G services being offered by the various operators provided 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 – 2013 - 2014
|Total number of fixed internet subscribers |
- Afghanistan’s mobile market continued on its positive expansion path in 2013, although at a somewhat slower rate;
- The mobile market continues to be resilient, approaching 70% penetration in what has been a most difficult environment;
- By end-2013 mobile coverage (population) had reached 90% according to the MCIT;
- the telecom regulator having begun issuing 3G licences in 2012, the process continued into 2014;
- by early 2014, five mobile operators had been assigned 3G concessions;
- in the meantime, four of the five had launched 3G services;
- the first moves were being made in adopting 4G technology;
- the country’s internet market continues to struggle but steady growth has been evident;
- 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 arrival of 3G mobile services was expected to be a major boost to internet access with the offering of mobile broadband services;
- most importantly the price of internet is dropping;
- the MCIT issued broadband WiMAX licences to a number of service providers in 2012;
- the country’s first satellite, Afghansat-1, was set to go into service in early 2014 under a strategic partnership with Eutelsat;
- On a broader front, the ongoing political and civil unrest continued to be of concern to the country and its people, with any deterioration in the situation certainly having an impact on the telecom sector.
This report provides an overview of the trends and developments in the telecommunications markets in Afghanistan. Subjects covered include:
- Key statistics;
- Market and industry overviews;
- Regulatory environment and developments;
- Mobile market – voice and data;
- Internet and the broadband market;
- Operators – mobile and fixed;
- TV broadcasting.
- Scenario forecasts (fixed, internet, mobile subscribers).