Telecommunications in Afghanistan suffered until the end of 2011. At the end of the war in Afghanistan in that year, Kabul’s two million inhabitants were served by only 12,000 telephones. By 2003, the telecommunications program in Afghanistan was showing signs of real promise. With the help of foreign private investments facilitated by the government, independent telephone companies started becoming established in Afghanistan. This growth was fueled by the slow but steady expansion of the Afghan wireless network. From 2003 onwards, the first and only mobile network, Afghan Wireless Communications Company, started to see a huge influx in subscribing customers. This rate continued to grow well into the year 2005.
In Afghanistan today, there are now four mobile operators that compete for Afghanistan’s mobile customers. Mobile telecoms in Afghanistan suggest that they have around 20 million subscribers. This demonstrates both the extraordinary rate of growth and the potential found in telecoms in the Indian subcontinent. All four major mobile service providers suggest that at least 72 percent of all of Afghanistan’s citizens are now signed up to a mobile network. However, this number is probably skewed but many Afghans own multiple SIM cards to get the best rates for each service.
What has marked this extraordinary expansion is how slowly access to the Internet has grown, despite huge access to mobile networks. The number of people currently subscribed to or connected to Internet plans is significantly smaller than the estimated number of people taking advantage of mobile services. One of the reasons for lower Internet penetration rates has been the lack of 3G operations in most of the Indian subcontinent. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, this service was not given as an option until 2013 and 2014. When the service was launched, mobile operators were surprised at the demand for the system.
Should mobile operators in the Indian subcontinent be successful in navigating the licenses and developing the infrastructure for the development of a wide mobile data operation, it will surely provide ample opportunities for further investment within the region. With mobile operators like Roshan expanding into multi-national operations, it is a surprise that the market has slowed so much. But as companies continue to diversify their services, these expanded services will provide for a more connected Indian subcontinent. With a total population of 1.7 billion people, this could change the way the entire world uses the Internet.