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New Cellphone Firm Vows End to Afghan Frustrations - NEW CELLPHONE FIRM VOWS TO END AFGHAN FRUSTRATIONS - 2003-07-25

Friday, 2003, July 25
sg.news.yahoo.com Reuters
David Brunnstrom

War-battered Afghanistan, where using a cellphone is a frustratingly hit-and-miss affair, will get its second GSM network on Sunday, and the company providing it vows to make failed calls a thing of the past.
TDCA Ltd, trading under the name Roshan, meaning 'light' in the Dari language, is owned by a consortium grouping the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, Monaco Telecom International (MTI), U.S.-based MCT Corp and French telecoms giant Alcatel.

Its network will initially cover the capital Kabul, then expand to the five other main cities -- Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kunduz -- by January 9, entailing a preliminary investment of $55 million.

The firm plans to expand its coverage to other cities in the next four to five years, investing at total of $120 million in the coming decade.

Canadian CEO Karim Khoja told reporters at a slick outlet in Kabul on Thursday he expected to equal the market share of competitor Afghan Wireless Communication Co by the year-end.

'We expect 50 percent by the end of the year and we intend to be the market leader within 12 months,' he said.

He estimated AWCC's current subscriber numbers at around 40,000 and said his firm had a capacity of over 50,000 now which could quickly be increased to 100,000 on Alcatel's system.

'The pent-up demand is huge,' he said, 'even before we started we have had a huge number of people queuing for pre-subscription forms.'


Afghanistan's fixed-line network was badly damaged in 23 years of civil war and apart from the existing over-subscribed cell network, ministries, aid groups and other institutions must rely on satellite phones for day-to-day communication. Khoja said Roshan pledged to deliver international standards and repair the current high percentage of call failures. He promised a drop-out, or failed-call rate, of just two percent.

He said a current shortage of SIM cards in the market had helped fuel competition and demand.

Khoja, who worked installing a network in Croatia after the war there, said his firm had no problems with security in Afghanistan, in spite of its continuing instability.

'What I have found throughout the world is that this is a service people want and they protect it for themselves because it is their service,' he said.

'In general, we have really had absolutely no problems whatsoever. Now that doesn't mean we don't take precautions, that we don't have guards, or shelters with alarms in them, but in general, I have been pleasantly surprised.'

He said the firm had had to overcome considerable bureaucracy, and also some demands for bribes. 'But we don't do anything that's not ethical,' he said.

The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) is the profit-making division of the non-profit aid agency, the Aga Khan Development Network.

Khoja said Roshan did not expect to move into profit until toward the end of the investment period, but what profits were made by AKFED would probably be channeled back into Aga Khan development projects in Afghanistan.

Geneva-based AKFED has a 51 percent stake in the project, MTI 35 percent, MCT Corp nine percent and Alcatel five percent.

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