Strong growth continues in Tajikistan’s mobile market but the internet market still lags
Tajikistan’s mobile sector has been growing strongly for over a decade and is the standout feature of the country’s telecom industry. Mobile penetration passed the 100% milestone in 2014 and the mobile subscriber base was continuing on a strong growth path into 2015. The launch of 3G mobile services in Tajikistan and more recently 4G/LTE have provided an optimistic note in the telecom market place. However, overall the telecom sector has continued to struggle. With one of the lowest fixed-line teledensities in the region (under 6% in 2014), at least this segment of the market was continuing to grow, although only at a modest rate. Fixed internet connections were also extremely low; however, but an expanding internet user population was a positive sign for the country’s future. This has been helped by the increasingly widespread presence of mobile internet services.
When the Soviet Union collapsed Tajikistan’s telecommunications infrastructure was arguably the least developed of all the former Soviet republics. With a telecom network that was near to totally dysfunctional, the government inherited the daunting task of bringing it up to modern standards. Apart from its outmoded and poorly maintained infrastructure, a succession of natural disasters causing damage to plant and equipment further undermined the integrity of the network.
The Tajikistan government announced its National Program of Communications Development in the mid-1990s. This was aimed particularly at the modernisation and development of communications throughout the country. Specifically it included plans to privatise communications, broadcasting and television to attract foreign investors, although the state was expected to remain a major shareholder.
The ambitious plan began to be implemented within the context of a traditional regulatory and operating structure. The Ministry of Communications (MOC) was made responsible for providing all public communications, including local, national and international telephone services, as well as postal services, TV and radio broadcasting. As part of a long-term program, the MOC aimed to build a national communications system to world standards. The government also laid out plans to ultimately transfer all responsibilities from the MOC to a new independent regulatory authority which duly happened. The Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) now has responsibility for regulating the telecom sector.
The government indicated there would be a transition period leading up to privatisation of Tajiktelecom in 2004 and liberalisation of the local and international long-distance switched telephony sector in 2006. As part of the privatisation strategy, a substantial number of private operators were allowed to enter the telecom market after 1996, notably in the mobile and internet sectors. In fact, telecommunications has become one of the most dynamically developing sectors within the Tajikistan economy. Although still inadequate, its contribution to the county’s GDP has been growing, as new and diversified technologies quickly become the norm.
The state-owned incumbent operator, Tajiktelecom, continues to maintain a major presence in the market, providing local, long-distance and international telephone services throughout the country. The all-important privatisation of Tajiktelecom had, however, been subject to a series of delays. A total of seven mobile operators had been licensed, although there has been some rationalisation of the market since. More than 10 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been licensed.
Note: It is pointed out that there are considerable inconsistencies with the market statistics available for Tajikistan as well as the total absence of statistics for some indicators
- Coming into 2015 mobile services in Tajikistan had reached almost 110% penetration
- mobile subscriber growth was running at an annual rate of 15%-20% by that stage;
- Following the launch of 3G demand for services was low, but the market was expanded rapidly through 2012/2013;
- Fixed-line penetration in Tajikistan was minimal, with growth in this market remaining sluggish;
- Tajikistan’s internet usage has been expanding quickly, with reports suggesting internet user penetration of around 16% by 2013;
- It was difficult, however, to pin point the actual number of internet subscribers;
- Fixed broadband internet access was virtually non-existent, although mobile broadband was growing quickly;
- Sweden’s TeliaSonera attracted criticism in 2012 for ‘abetting an authoritarian regime’ with its operations in Tajikistan;
- the e-government development plan was set down for implementation by end-2015
- Tcell launched a 4G network in April 2014 (this followed Babilon-T’s launch in 2012);
- the Russian-owned operator MTT launched an MVNO service in late 2014.
Tajikistan – key telecom parameters – 2012 - 2014
|Subscriber penetration (population)|
|Total number of fixed subscribers1|
|Subscriber penetration (population)|
Note: 1estimates for all years