Afghan Telecom relying on Etisalat to grow market share

Afghan Telecom shares 60 to 70 mobile towers with Etisalat in different parts of Afghanistan

An Afghan youth uses his mobile phone to take pictures of US Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Marines as they patrol around the town of Musa Qala on January 18, 2011. The top US military officer said January 12 he sees an increase in bloodshed in Afghanistan as allied forces step up their offensive against the Taliban. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY KOSTYUKOV / AFP PHOTO / DMITRY KOSTYUKOV
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Government-owned Afghan Telecom Company is leveraging the Etisalat network, the UAE's biggest telecommunications service provider, to grow its market share in the war-torn nation.

"We are looking forward to cementing more collaborations with Etisalat in the coming months. The platform is already built and both telcos just need to capitalise on it," Ajmal Ayan, chief executive of Afghan Telecom, told The National.

The provider, which counts 2.2 million people as customers out of a total population of around 34 million in Afghanistan, is currently sharing 60 to 70 mobile towers with Etisalat. The UAE telco, which entered the country in 2007, is one of Afghan Telecom's biggest customers of its fibre network, used to carry internet and telephone signals.

“I am sure it will be a win-win situation as the Afghan market offers a huge scope of growth to Etisalat,” said Mr Ayan. 

Internet services, including mobile internet, remain inaccessible to the majority of the population, and penetration rates remain below 10 per cent, according to a 2018 World Bank report. In the capital city of Kabul, 16 per cent of households use internet, but that figure drops to 2 per cent in rural areas.

“Our current market share is less than 5 per cent. That is very low but we target to reach the top spot. We have planned to work very closely with Etisalat to build our capabilities while spreading our network,” Mr Ayan said.


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Afghan Telecom’s wireless network, called Salam, was the latest player to enter the mobile communications market in Afghanistan in 2013, and its main competitors are Roshan, Afghan Wireless, Etisalat and MTN Group.

Roshan is the market leader in Afghanistan with more than 6.5 million active users, followed by MTN and Etisalat with 4.5 and 3.5 million subscribers, respectively.

Etisalat, which was the first mobile provider to launch 3G services in Afghanistan, is in competition with Afghan Telecom, but Mr Ayan says the two companies can complement each other by sharing infrastructure.

Afghan Telecom is also looking to reach an agreement with Etisalat to allow Afghan nationals to use their own Salam network in the UAE at cheaper roaming tariffs. 

Currently, the UAE hosts one of the largest expatriate Afghan communities – more than 150,000 Afghanis reside in the Emirates.

Mr Ayan, who declined to share exact figures, said his company has aggressive plans for investment in the next 18 months and top priorities of spending are on equipment, new sites and developing system networks.