Roshan - or 'light' in Dari and Pashto - is a new General Systems for Mobiles (GSM) network launched by the Telecom Development Company of Afghanistan Ltd. (TDCA).

TDCA is owned by an international consortium in which the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development holds 51 percent, Monaco Telecom International 35 percent and US-based MCT Corp. nine percent. France's Alcatel holds five percent and also provides financing for equipment.

Dozens of mostly Afghan customers on Sunday morning filled the firm's new shop in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood of Kabul.


"The pent-up demand is huge"

Roshan CEO Karim Khoja 

Roshan chief executive officer Karim Khoja said by the end of the year the firm aimed to have a 50 percent share of the market currently dominated by the Afghan Wireless Communication Co. (AWCC).

AWCC is a joint venture between Afghanistan's ministry of communications and Telephone Systems International, a private New Jersey-registered firm founded by Afghan emigre Ehsan Bayat.

"AWCC has around 40,000 (customers), we expect to be at a 50 percent market share by the end of the year and we intend to be the market leader within 12 months," Khoja told reporters Thursday.

"The pent-up demand is huge," the Canadian said.

Price war breaks out

Afghanistan has a very limited fixed line network, with just 26,800 digital lines serving the capital Kabul and the main cities of Herat and Kandahar in a country with a population of around 24 million - two million of those people in Kabul alone.

There are an additional 31,900 lines on the country's ageing and mostly redundant analogue fixed network, a ministry of communications official said.

While the sign-up fees of 110 or 135 dollars are more than twice the monthly salary of an Afghan civil servant, Khoja said plenty of Afghans were able to afford the service.

"We don't underestimate this market or the people who can afford this service," he said. "This shop isn't meant for expats, this shop is for Afghans."

Roshan's imminent arrival on the Afghan cellular scene has already prompted price cutting by its rival, with AWCC dropping its sign-up fee for a SIM card from 130 dollars to 50 dollars.

Despite their high cost, satellite phones remain popular with officials, journalists, the military and aid workers due the lack of a reliable and nationwide fixed or mobile network.