ABU DHABI, (Reuters) – The UAE’s Etisalat plans to invest $100 million in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2012 and seeks to launch third-generation telecoms services this year, a top executive said on Sunday.
Etisalat Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Saeed al Hamli said the company expects subscribers in the troubled country to more than double within two to three years and push market share to between 30 to 35 percent.
“Our budget is $100 million dollars for 2011 to 2012,” al Hamli told reporters at the telco’s Abu Dhabi headquarters. “We expect our subscribers to reach 6 to 6.6 million in two to three years.”
It currently has 3 million subscribers with a market share of 24 percent.
Afghanistan’s mobile carriers are market-leading Roshan, South Africa’s MTN Group Ltd , Etisalat and Afghan Wireless Telecommunications Co.
Al Hamli said the company, which has invested $300 million in Afghanistan since 2007, also plans to acquire an existing internet service provider within the next two months.
“For us, it is a strategic deal on the enterprise side,” he said.
Mobile phone use has mushroomed since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, when Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, had only a few thousand landlines and no international service.
The sector now has 13.3 million mobile phone users and is the biggest source of tax revenue for the government of President Hamid Karzai, generating $129 million last year.
Cumulative revenue from the sector is expected to reach $800 million in five years. So far, investments in the Afghan telecom sector is $1.2 billion.
Government minister Baryalai Hassam told Reuters in November that the Telecommunications Ministry was in talks with the four Afghan mobile carriers to upgrade to a 3G or 4G network to provide faster Internet service to the Afghan market.
Al Hamli said the company plans to launch 3G services this year as soon as it receives a licence.
“We are waiting for the 3G licence which we are hopeful to get soon,” he said. “We are ready. We have the technology.”