Afghanistan


One principle LIRNEasia defended consistently over the discussions at UN ESCAP about the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (APIS) was that of open access. And despite many entreaties we held firm that the fiber had to owned by any entity other than the incumbent telecom operator in the country passed by the APIS fiber. From the time we conducted the Afghanistan sector performance review in 2011-12, I’ve been waiting for reports on the fiber investment paying off. But all that it appears to have yielded are vacuous presentations at international organizations. I hope that President Ghani will remove the fiber network from the dog-in-the-manger incumbent Afghan Telecom and allow the entire economy to benefit from the USD 130 million investment.
It is not only in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka that there are moves to consolidate mobile markets. Afghanistan has joined the conversation. But the reasons are different and saddening. It seems that high-value customers are leaving the country. And the part about people not being able to charge their smartphones because the Taliban blew up a pylon .
Pakistan has officially allowed private carriers to terrestrially plug the country with all the four neighbors including India. This multidimensional landmark decision makes Pakistan the buckle of South Asia-Central Asia telecoms belt. This route is embedded in our proposed trans-Asian connectivity for affordable broadband. It took us three years to convince ESCAP, which dubs our concept “Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway.” Pakistan currently exports internet bandwidth to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
The 2014 Measuring the Information Society report is out. No surprises at the top: Denmark is now at 1 and Korea is now 2; just changed places from 2012 ranking. Significant movement from the Gulf countries: UAE goes from 46 to 23 and Qatar from 42 to 34. UAE is almost too difficult to believe. No good news from South Asia, sadly.
I have been studying how to make Internet affordable and resilient across the developing Asia. Excessive reliance on submarine cable is the bottleneck. My study shows how to overcome it by deploying fiber across the continent, exploiting the transcontinental highways. But the control-freak governments, attending WCIT 2012 conference at Dubai, have deepened the crises of Internet. James Cowie of Renesys Corporation has categorized the countries being vulnerable to different levels of Internet shutdown risk (Click on the map).
Afghanistan has received 3 bids for the first 3G license. The new license for  10MHz of 3G spectrum was intended  to have been awarded by November 2011, but has gotten delayed and the bids are being assessed only now. The existing GSM operators (Roshan, Etisalat, MTN, AWCC ) would be allowed to obtain a license as well by matching the bid of the new entrant. Roshan and Etisalat are already making plans for investment, with Etisalat planning to invest USD 100 million over the coming year to upgrade its infrastructure to provide 3G services. Going from nearly zero mobile connectivity in 2002, Afghanistan’s current mobile penetration stands at about 63 SIMs/ 100.
People have been sending me pictures, not of Qaddafi dead, but of people taking pictures of the dead Qaddafi. I was among those who speculated on the role of cameras in moderating the crackdown in Bahrain (before the real crackdown): “Could the ubiquity of cameras be the differentiating factor? Cameras are everywhere in Tripoli and Manama; images keep coming out, despite confiscations of cameras, SIMs, and whatever picture-snapping gadgets there are. Prabhakaran’s captives had no cameras.” Now here is a report on the use of low-end digital cameras (not very different from mid-range mobile phones) in constraining electoral fraud.
Good data is hard to come by in Afghanistan. In addition to some data (this below from an Asia Foundation demand-side survey), the report emphasizes the need to encourage mobile money remittances and the availability of agri-market prices. Nine years ago, Afghanistan had between 10,000 and 20,000 fixed lines, and mobile telecommunications were virtually nonexistent. Since then the country has seen explosive growth in mobile subscribers, network providers, and physical infrastructure. The total number of subscriptions is approximately 13 million for a total population of roughly 29 million people, and the annual growth rate of subscription is estimated at 53 percent (2009–10).
The ITU dataset is the mother lode, mined by all. But sometimes, it is good to interrogate the quality of what the ITU produces. The most recent instance of ITU data being subject to sophisticated analysis without any attention being paid to the quality of the data is by noted ICT4D scholar, Richard Heeks. In a previous essay, Heeks interrogated the numbers emanating from the ITU on “mobile subscriptions.” It is a pity the same was not done in the recent piece on Internet and broadband.

Somalia calling

Posted by on May 12, 2010  /  2 Comments

Amid rapid technological development, the competition to supply telecom services in war-torn Somalia proves that some complex businesses can thrive even in one of Africa’s dangerous markets. One of the largest telecom companies in Somalia, Hormuud Telecom, has annual sales of as much as US$40 million. Even “Mobile 2.0” is making inroads here. But the success of Somalia’s telecom sector shouldn’t come as such a surprise, according to experts.
Afghanistan’s five telecoms networks have jointly set up a trade association, the Afghanistan Telecommunication Operators’ Social Association (ATOSA). Since 2001, the telecoms industry of Afghanistan has played a significant role in developing the country, creating over 100,000 indirect jobs and investing over $US1.2 billion in building a national telephone network for the first time in Afghanistan’s history. The industry is the largest tax paying sector in Afghanistan with an estimated $US $500 million paid in taxes, duties and fees to the Government since 2003, representing over 10% of all domestically generated Government revenues in the same period. Cellular News reports.
According to the ITU ICTeye, which is now carrying 2008 data, Pakistan’s surge to overtake Sri Lanka has petered out, leaving the Maldives (143 active SIMs/100 people) as the undisputed leader in mobile connectivity (apparently all adult Maldivians carry two active SIMs; there are only two operators in the Maldives), and Sri Lanka second with 52 SIMs per 100 people. On the fixed side, assisted by CDMA phones that are counted as fixed, Sri Lanka is the leader (17 connection per 100 people), followed by Maldives (15 per 100). Like in cricket, the middle of the rankings are the most interesting. Both Pakistan (50/100) and Bhutan (37/100) are ahead of India (29/100) in mobile. This shows that India cannot afford to let up the pace of 10 million connections a month for some time.
LIRNEasia might not be as high tech as some of the big IT players but in our own way we have made a successful effort to make ourselves a virtual team. Not a choice – that was the only way we could operate in multiple countries (For example, in this cycle, TRE surveys will be in nine countries –  Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand; not to mention CPRSouth 3 in Beijing)without budgets comparable to what INGOs use to run regional networks. We also thought our own experiences will be useful for others. Hence the Virtual Organisation (VO)  project. It had two aspects; developing the VO and using it to conduct LIRNEasia’s other research projects.
Mobile Benchmark Studies in South Asia and Latin America | L I R N E . N E T DIRSI’s study on mobile price and affordability also adapts the OECD price baskets to compare the monthly costs of using mobiles in six Latin American countries. The Latin American baskets take into consideration call and SMS volumes and usage data as specified in the OECD methodology,[5] but excludes initial connection charges. The DIRSI study also does not report data on postpaid or indicate whether different MoUs have been applied to prepaid and postpaid. Despite differences in methodology, it is interesting to note the rather large differences in the monthly costs between users in South Asia and Latin America; even though the former takes into account a broader set of costs.
According to LIRNEasia’s latest comparative study of price and affordability indicators in eight South Asian countries, Bangladesh emerges as having the lowest average monthly cost of using a mobile at all levels of use (low, medium and high) for different tariff plans (prepaid and postpaid). Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka follow closely, while Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan are seen to have significantly higher average monthly mobile costs. The study compares mobile tariffs in South Asia using price baskets, derived from those used by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The baskets are calculated for low, medium and high users for pre- as well as postpaid tariff plans, factoring in usage charges (voice and SMS), line rental, connection charges (depreciated over a three year period), and applicable taxes. For more information on results and methodology, please click HERE.
Vodafone to launch mobile phone money transfer service in Afghanistan – Yahoo! News “This is really the early days, but when you see the low banking penetration in emerging markets, compared to rapidly growing mobile penetration, the potential is very big,” said James Moberly, senior manager for payment solutions at Vodafone on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress here. The GSM Association, the global mobile phone industry body, estimates that about a dozen such schemes involving money transfer services are in operation throughout the world, with 10 million users. Vodafone plans to launch cash transfer services soon in India and other African countries. “You can send money, withdraw cash, pay your bills or your loan, and all this is within seconds,” said Aleeda Fazal, head of product development at Afghan group Roshan, which is the partner for Vodafone in the troubled country.
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