Afghanistan’s leading cellco, the Telecom Development Company Afghanistan (Roshan), claims that its GSM subscriber base reached 650,000 this month, up from 523,000 at the end of June, on the back of determined efforts to expand services in the war-torn country. Rival operator Afghan Wireless Communications Company (AWCC) had signed up only 260,000 mobile users at the end of June, despite having a year’s headstart on Roshan, which received its licence in January 2003.
Afghanistan’s cellular penetration stood at just 1.6% at the end of 2004, but the figure is now thought to have topped 4%, largely due to Roshan’s network expansion. It operates in 45 towns and cities, spread across 29 of the country’s 34 provinces, including less commercially viable areas such as the remote north eastern region of Badakhshan. The company plans to cover the whole country by mid-2006, including the Taliban stronghold of Uruzgan. Roshan has invested over USD150 million in its infrastructure so far and plans to invest a further USD100 million in the next year to maintain its position, with two new competitors due to enter the market in 2006. Lebanese company Investcom, in partnership with the Alokozay Group of the UAE, won one of two GSM concessions in an auction in September, with the second licence going to Watan Mobile Afghanistan, a consortium made up of Saudi Arabia’s Al Houbi Telecom, and US companies Cellular One and GlobeCom Systems. Each concession cost USD40.1 million. Investcom says that it intends to launch a commercial GSM network by mid-2006 under the brand name Areeba.