Afghanistan expands its online access as 3G networks roll out
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 2015 despite the positive signs of a civil society taking shape, the country was still suffering from the ongoing conflict. 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 almost 90% of the population by 2015.
Efforts were made to roll out fixed-line services, but the country’s telecommunications services rely heavily on its mobile infrastructure. There were five mobile operators competing in Afghanistan’s telecom sector by 2015. Between them they claimed a total of almost 24 million subscribers, with an overall mobile penetration of 75% by that stage. Four of the five were carrying market shares in excess of 20%, while the fifth, Afghan Telecom, was almost irrelevant at that stage with less than 1% of the 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.
In the meantime, internet penetration remained 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. By mid-2015 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 continued on its positive expansion path into 2015;
mobile subscriber growth looked to be ongoing at around 10% per annum in 2015;
mobile penetration has passed 75% under a generally difficult market environment;
mobile coverage (population) had passed 90% according to the MCIT;
five mobile operators have been assigned 3G concessions;
with AWCC launching its 3G network at the start of 2015, all five operators had launched 3G;
some early moves were being made for the adoption of 4G technology;
the country’s internet market continues to struggle but steady growth has been evident;
since the major surge in internet users reported by the ITU 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 is dropping;
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 an impact on the telecom sector.
Companies mentioned in this report:
Afghan Telecom/Aftel, Afghan Wireless Communications Company/AWCC, Roshan/ Telecom Development Company Afghanistan Ltd (TDCA), Etisalat Afghanistan, MTN Afghanistan, Wasel Telecom, Ericsson, ZTE.
Ankur Gupta, Head Marketing & Communications