KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan ( news - web sites) has licensed an international consortium led by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) to set up its second mobile phone network, the fund said in a statement on Saturday.
The Geneva-based AKFED said it had a 51 percent stake in the project, while Monaco Telecom International (MTI) will hold 35 percent of the equity, U.S.-based MCT Corp nine percent and French telecoms giant Alcatel five percent.
AKFED said the project would involve a total initial investment of $55 million, rising to $120 million over the coming decade. The statement said Alcatel would also provide financing for technical equipment, but gave no details.
It said the World Bank ( news - web sites)'s private-sector arm, the International Finance Corp, had expressed an interest in participating in the project.
The network will initially be targeted at six main cities in war-battered Afghanistan -- Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kunduz.
The consortium expects to expand the network to other cities over the next four or five years.
Afghanistan now has just one mobile operator, Afghan Wireless Communication Co, which established networks in Kabul and Herat this year.
AKFED estimated these catered to about 20,000 subscribers, supplementing a fixed-line network almost totally destroyed in Afghanistan's years of civil war.
Government ministries, aid organizations and other institutions rely on satellite telephones for day-to-day communications both inside and outside Kabul.
"Addressing needs in as vital an area of infrastructure as communications is one of the ways AKFED is seeking to help jump-start economic development in Afghanistan," AKFED's statement said.
It said Alcatel was already in partnership with it in the manufacture of digital telephone exchanges and related software development in South Asia, while MTI had recent experience implementing GSM projects in the post-conflict environments of Kosovo and the Balkans.
MCT Corp, meanwhile, is an AKFED partner in a GSM venture in Central Asia.