Consolidation likely in Afghanistan mobile market
Afghanistan continues to be confronted on the widest possible front by the challenges of moving from a fragile present into a more stable and positive future. By 2016 despite the positive signs of a civil society taking shape, the country was still suffering from the ongoing conflict and multiple difficulties in administering the nation. After many years of war and civil strife, an encouraging aspect of the country’s efforts to rebuild has been the considerable success evident in the creating a functional telecommunications sector virtually from nothing. According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), the telecommunications networks covered around 90% of the population by 2016. Whilst the sector is flourishing, at least in a relative sense, the regulatory side is still in its infancy.
Efforts were made to roll out fixed-line services, but the country’s telecommunications services rely heavily on its mobile infrastructure. There are five mobile operators competing in Afghanistan’s telecom sector. Between them they claimed a total of more than 25 million subscribers, with an overall mobile penetration of almost 80%. Four of the five were carrying market shares in excess of 20%, while the fifth, Afghan Telecom’s Salam was just starting to build its mobile subscriber base. Indeed Afghanistan has a highly competitive mobile market that continues to flourish despite the background of the ongoing conflict throughout the country. Not surprisingly the mobile sector has been boosted by the absence of effective fixed-line alternatives.
More recently, there has been a slump in the mobile market which was attributed to the withdrawal of foreign troops and an exodus of the nation’s middle class amidst renewed violence. According to one source, this withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan was expected to lead to consolidation in the nation’s mobile market. The exit of foreign troops had resulted in a shortage of high-value customers, leading to a drop of around 30%-40% in the value of the mobile market, according to the source.
In the meantime, internet penetration remains generally low throughout Afghanistan. With internet access initially relying heavily on dial-up services and an extremely low number of broadband subscribers in place, the online segment of the market was looking for a boost. That boost came in the form of 3G mobile licences. The 3G services being offered by the various operators had been launched in 2013 and were providing a special opportunity for delivering mobile broadband to Afghanistan’s population. Coming into 2016, there were around two million 3G mobile broadband subscribers in the country; however, this was only 8% of the total mobile subscriber base.
The political and civil stability of the country is a dark cloud hanging over the country; it is of course a particular threat to the effectiveness of the telecommunications network and the viability of the telecommunications sector. Nevertheless, there does appear to be a will to secure the future of telecommunications in Afghanistan.
- Afghanistan’s mobile market has continued on its positive expansion path into 2016;
- mobile subscriber growth looks to be ongoing in the range 5% to 10% per annum in 2016;
- mobile penetration has reached 80% under a generally difficult market environment;
- mobile coverage (population) has passed 90% according to the MCIT;
- all five of the mobile operators have been assigned 3G concessions;
- by the time AWCC launched its 3G network in 2015, all five operators had launched 3G;
- some early moves were being made for the adoption of 4G technology;
- there are suggestions that the mobile market will undergo consolidation as the operators experience falling revenue with the departure of foreign troops;
- the country’s internet market continues to struggle but steady growth has been evident;
- following a major surge in internet users in 2009/2010, there has been positive growth in internet usage;
- the arrival of 3G mobile broadband services has rapidly expanded internet access;
- most importantly the price of internet access/usage is dropping;
- on a positive note the Afghanistan National Data Centre (ANDC), a government-owned data centre, has been steadily expanding its data centre role;
- the country’s first satellite, Afghansat-1 was launched in 2015 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 certain to have a negative impact on the telecom sector.
Companies mentioned in this report:
Afghan Telecom/Aftel/Salam Telecom/Networks, Afghan Wireless Communications Company/AWCC, Roshan/ Telecom Development Company Afghanistan Ltd (TDCA), Etisalat Afghanistan, MTN Afghanistan, Wasel Telecom, Ericsson, ZTE.