2007 Asia - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

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Last updated: 21 Mar 2007 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 192

Analyst: Stephen McNamara

Publication Overview

This report provides a comprehensive overview of the trends and developments in telecommunications, broadcasting and pay TV markets in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Subjects covered include:

  • Key Statistics
  • Market and Industry Overviews
  • Regulatory Environment
  • Major Players (fixed and mobile)
  • Infrastructure
  • Mobile Voice and Data Markets
  • Internet, VoIP, IPTV
  • Broadband
  • Digital Media

Executive Summary


Telecommunications has already started to play a big role in helping repair the Afghanistan economy and society. As the political and social rebuilding of the country proceeds following years of war and civil unrest, the country has been busy putting new national telecommunications infrastructure in place. With a properly functioning basic telephone network always a priority, an important step was the creation of the Ministry of Communications (MoC) in early 2002 followed in December 2005 by the establishment of the Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority (ATRA).

The challenge for the country has been to attract and manage foreign investment in the country. There have been some positive signs in the telecom sector in this regard. With two mobile operators already in place, the MoC announced two more mobile licences had been awarded in September 2005. GSM licences were awarded to the Investcom/Alokozai consortium and Watan Mobile. In July 2006, the Investcom/Alokozai consortium launched its Areeba Afghanistan service in four provinces.


Bangladesh is one of the poorest, most densely populated, least developed countries in the world. Its fixed-line teledensity (less than 1%) remains the lowest in South Asia. Apart from its lowly economic status, major impediments to growth have included frequent cyclones and floods and the slow implementation of much-needed economic reforms. The country has a reputation for the inefficiency of its state-owned enterprises. The overall situation in the country’s telecom sector has been improved to some extent in recent times by a rapidly expanding mobile market. After a number of years of strong growth, mobile penetration was a little over 14% at end-2006, still well behind most of its regional neighbours.

With almost 99% of homes lacking a telephone and with a four year waiting list for fixed-line services, the country is still struggling with some of the most underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure in the world. About 80% of the telephone lines are in Bangladesh’s four main cities, while 80% of the population lives in some 86,000 rural villages.

The Maldives

The Maldives has built itself one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in the region. With the country’s well-developed national network, the capital Malé is particularly well served, as are the tourist resort islands. The critical issue of connectivity to the rest of the world for its relatively small population of 300,000 has been addressed with considerable success; this has been further enhanced by the recent provision of a major submarine cable connection. Incumbent national telco, Dhiraagu, which has been criticised over the years for its high tariff structure, has played an undeniably important role in the successful setting up of the country’s telecom infrastructure.

As well as operating the national fixed-line network, the company has also been operating a mobile service as well as an Internet service. Dhiraagu’s monopoly was officially set to run out in 2008, but the government was keen to open up the market earlier than that. The licensing of a second ISP in 2002 signalled the government’s intention to move ahead of time. Then, in 2004, a second mobile licence was issued. Although the new mobile operator Wataniya Telecom was somewhat slow to launch its service, this finally happened in early 2006 and by September it had 70,000 subscribers – a very significant share of the market.


Pakistan has begun to experience phenomenal growth in its telecom sector, and especially the mobile segment of the market. This has been after many years of relatively low growth and market uncertainty. By any measure, 2006 was an outstanding year for Pakistan’s mobile market, in particular. The total number of subscribers reached 48.2 million by year-end, representing a penetration of around 31%. This expansion pattern was certainly continuing into 2007. Two new mobile operators - UAE-based Warid Telecom and Norway’s Telenor – have entered the market. Both recorded impressive debuts and their presence has hugely increased competition. Two of the established operators, Ufone and Mobilink, have announced major network investment plans. Mobilink continued to lead the market with over 22 million subscribers, but its market share has declined to 46%. Strong marketing by the operators has been central to Pakistan’s mobile growth phenomenon.

In the meantime, fixed-line penetration in the country stood at just over 4% (6.4 million lines) in early 2007, leaving plenty of room for further expansion. The government has indicated that it is continuing to pursue its targeted national teledensity of 7% (around 10 million lines) by 2010. To achieve this target, though, around 1 million additional lines need to be installed every year. Internet penetration remains low in the country, with little apparent interest in the marketplace in broadband access. With competition spreading through the market, however, development is accelerating and it may impact on the Internet segment soon.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has continued in efforts to develop the country, this despite its ongoing political problems, which have refused to go away. A modern progressive telecommunications sector still remains high on the country’s list of priorities. The mobile sector in Sri Lanka was growing at an annual rate of more than 50% coming into 2007. With mobile penetration still relatively low (compared with some other Asian markets) at around 27% by end-2006, the strong growth was more than likely to continue.

The country’s fixed-line teledensity stood at 6% by end-2005. Low fixed-line penetration levels have been more a result of acute supply constraints rather than a lack of demand for service. There were almost 400,000 subscribers waiting for a basic telephone. The fixed market experienced a major growth surge in 2006, spurred on by the extensive use of Wireless Local Loop (WLL) services to meet demand. By early 2007 fixed line teledensity was approaching a much healthier 10%.

Reform of the market has been central to ensuring growth. Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) progressively losing its monopoly on a range of services has led the way as the market is made more interesting for new players. The market has undoubtedly benefited from the liberalisation of the market and the competition that comes with having four mobile operators battling for market share. This is despite one of these – MTN – having close to 60% market share.

Mobile subscriber growth by country – 2004 – 2007

Country 2004 2005 2006 2007*
Afghanistan 600,000 1,000,000 1,600,000 2,000,000
Bangladesh 3,960,000 10,400,000 22,000,000 35,000,000
Maldives 113,000 168,000 280,000 320,000
Pakistan 7,900,000 15,500,000 48,200,000 80,000,000
Sri Lanka 2,157,000 3,300,000 5,400,000 6,800,000

Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.

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