Afghanistan’s Wireless Market Looks Toward a Bright Future

A landlocked country located in Central Asia, Afghanistan developed in the path of caravan trading routes known as the Silk Road. As Afghanistan began to rebuild following decades of war, entrepreneurs brought new technology into the country that allowed residents to easily communicate with one another and the outside world. One individual who led the effort to open Afghanistan to new communication systems was Dr. Ehsan Bayat.

The History of Telecommunications in Afghanistan

According to Dr. Ehsan Bayat, the effort to establish a national telecommunications system had faced many challenges. In the mid 1990’s, the nation began to establish the infrastructure and networks necessary to bring telecommunications technology to Afghanistan. A few public call shops were established, and several hundred miles of telephone lines were installed, a tentative beginning to offering communication to the nation. Subsequently, there was a renewed effort to bring a mobile network to the nation. However, numerous hurdles prevented the effort from getting very far. Undeterred, Dr. Bayat persevered to overcome obstacles.

Hurdles to Overcome

Particularly difficult during this period was the process of securing equipment and personnel willing to work in the country. Dr. Bayat eventually located a company willing to sell equipment to the newly formed Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC), and the nation’s first mobile phone provider launched in 2002.

Explosive Growth

mobile phoneSince Afghan Wireless began providing services in 2002, the wireless market in Afghanistan has exploded. Today, there are five mobile operators competing for a piece of Afghanistan’s mobile market, which has resulted in reduced prices and increased service. Between Afghan Wireless and its competitors, nearly 25 million subscribers now have access to wireless service, a number that by most estimates covers 80% of the population. Most experts agree that this explosive growth is due, in part, to the lack of alternatives to wireless service, making it a highly competitive market. In hindsight, this explosive growth makes sense. While there was formerly no market, suddenly everyone now had access to wireless service. However, at the time, no one could have predicted the widespread acceptance of this new means of communication.

Government Regulations

As the wireless market exploded onto the scene, the government scrambled to keep pace. Unpredictable tax rates hindered the expansion of the wireless market and led to frustrated owners, who were unprepared to pay taxes early or at the government’s whim. Regulatory guidelines are being put into place, similar to those of the FCC, that will help to monitor and control the use of wireless technology and regulate tax collection to maintain the infrastructure.

Maintaining the Network

New technology is constantly being added to improve the wireless market within Afghanistan. Dr. Bayat’s efforts to update wireless systems to keep up with the pace of modern technology are not only cost effective, but they put the nation in a position to move forward with its communication systems. The use of fiber optic cables will reduce dependence on wireless for Internet systems and lower the cost of service even more.

The use of local workforces to maintain and secure the equipment is expected to improve connectivity. In addition, it is anticipated that the new technology will provide employment to Afghan nationals and create a network of communities that share wireless towers.

The Future of Wireless

While nearly 80% of the population now has access to wireless communication, the number of individuals with Internet access is considerably smaller. Today, the number of 3G subscribers in Afghanistan amounts to approximately 2 million users, which is approximately 8% of the mobile market. Currently, all five mobile operators in the nation have 3G licenses and are seeking to increase their market share, as users adopt the newest forms of communication. In addition, companies are seeking to adopt 4G technology and improve the quality of Internet connectivity. Previously, efforts to expand Internet usage were dismal due in part due to poor infrastructure. The use of dial-up, a lack of available resources, and a limited understanding of how the Internet can be beneficial hindered its adoption by the Afghan people. Helping to further expand the Internet’s reach are strategic partnerships that led to the launch of the nation’s first satellite, as well as falling prices for Internet and wireless access.

Afghan Wireless has worked tirelessly to bring communication to Afghanistan. From the earliest stages of development, Dr. Bayat has served as a financial investor and advocate for improved telecommunication systems, and he continues to focus on this effort. The expansion of telecommunications networks continues to encounter new obstacles. However, in spite of these challenges, the people of Afghanistan have a vested interest in pursuing a secure and efficient network for both wireless and Internet service.