Global financial crisis hits Tajikistan hard, but mobile market still growing by 20% a year

Tajikistan’s telecommunications infrastructure was arguably the least developed of all the former Soviet republics, according to Research & Markets. With a telecom network that was near total collapse, the government has had the daunting task of bringing it up to modern standards. Apart from its outmoded and poorly maintained infrastructure, a succession of natural disasters causing damage to plant and equipment undermined the integrity of the network.

During the mid-1990s the government announced its National Program of Communications Development, which was aimed particularly at the modernisation and development of communications throughout the country. Specifically it included plans to privatise communications, broadcasting and television to attract foreign investors, although the state was expected to remain a major shareholder.

The ambitious plan began to be implemented within the context of a traditional regulatory and operating structure. The Ministry of Communications (MOC) was made responsible for providing all public communications, including local, national and international telephone services, as well as postal services, TV and radio broadcasting. As part of a long-term program, the MOC aimed to build a national communications system to world standards. The government also laid out plans to ultimately transfer all responsibilities from the MOC to a new independent regulatory authority which duly happened.

The government indicated there would be a transition period leading up to privatisation of Tajiktelecom in 2004 and liberalisation of the local and international long-distance switched telephony sector in 2006. As part of the privatisation strategy, a substantial number of private operators were allowed to enter the telecom market after 1996, notably in the mobile and internet sectors. In fact, telecommunications has become one of the most dynamically developing sectors within the Tajikistan economy. Although still inadequate, its contribution to the county’s GDP has been actively growing, as new and diversified technologies were quickly becoming the norm. The privatisation of Tajiktelecom has, however, been subject to a series of delays. In the meantime, Tajikistan began the trial introduction of a number of advanced wireless networks, including 3G and NGNs, in 2005.

The market continued to be dominated by the state-owned incumbent operator, Tajiktelecom, which has been providing local, long-distance and international telephone services throughout the country. In addition, more than six mobile operators and around 12 ISPs had been licensed. The new regulatory authority, the Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA), was created in 2005.

Despite the almost exponential growth in Tajikistan’s mobile sector over a number of years, overall the telecom market has remained rudimentary. With one of the lowest fixed-line and mobile penetrations in the region in 2006, total teledensity was estimated at around 10%. By 2011, however, the total teledensity had surged to around 85%. Of course, this was on the back of the booming mobile market where penetration was close to the 80% mark. In the meantime, fixed-line numbers had remained virtually static over this period with penetration holding at 5%-6%.

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