The UAE’s top telecoms operator Etisalat has launched third-generation (3G) network services in Afghanistan, the first operator to provide services in the war-torn country.
The Abu Dhabi-based firm said its network covers 30 out of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces but did not provide details where the 3G services will be offered.
Etisalat competes with South Africa’s MTN , Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC) and Roshan, a joint consortium of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, Cable & Wireless Communications Plc and Swedish group TeliaSonera.
The UAE telecom group says it has invested more than $300m in Afghanistan since 2007, and has a customer base of around 3.5 million customers in the country.
A top executive at Roshan, Etisalat’s competitor, said in February his firm had 5.8 million subscribers, enjoying a 35% market share.
Afghanistan’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Amirzai Sangin said Etisalat was the first company to receive a 3G licence, while adding that the other four companies would be granted licences “in near future”.
Etisalat paid US$25 million for the licence, according to Sangin.
“Afghanistan will earn around $100 million annually through 3G services”, he added.
Sangin, who signed the agreement with Etisalat during a ceremony at the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology in Kabul, said the new 3G service would enable telecom companies in Afghanistan to provide users access to high speed internet on their mobile phones.
Etisalat Afghanistan chief executive, Ahmed Alhosani, said the agreement was an “auspicious moment” for telecommunications in Afghanistan.
“Today’s 3G launch by Etisalat marks an evolution in mobile communications and significant progress only made possible through a strong public-private partnership,” he said in a statement released by the company.
The Afghan Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said only 4% Afghans have access to basic Internet services but hoped this agreement is the beginning of more Afghans having access to high speed internet connections, provided by mobile phone companies.
Etisalat Afghanistan is part of the United Arab Emirates-based Etisalat Group, which also has operations in Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia.
Sources: Reuters, ToloNews.com