EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Karim Khoja, CEO of Afghan operator Roshan, said it is no longer “sustainable” for the country’s crowded telecoms market to continue without consolidation, as he spoke of a “desperate need” for foreign investment.

Roshan is currently the largest of six operators in Afghanistan, with more than 7.3 million connections, but growth in the sector continues to be hit by both political and economic instability, making it “a pretty tough market to operate in”, said Khoja.

With a number of people also “joining a bandwagon of refugees” moving to Europe, there is also a lot of money leaving the country, said Khoja, meaning an economic return on investment becomes even harder.

“Across Europe, you have seen telecoms consolidation because it makes economic sense,” he said. “You can’t keep putting money into the ground unless you are getting an economic return.”

Khoja likened the demand for disruptive technologies in Afghanistan to emerging markets across Africa and Asia, but the lack of infrastructure in the country meant progress was a challenge.

“Because we have been so isolated in many ways, we have been able to leapfrog technology, but we still don’t have a robust fibre optic network. That needs a foreign investor, particular if we are to go to that next level, be it 5G or even 6G.”

Khoja also opened up on some of the day-to-day challenges in operating in the country.

“Last year, the Taliban blew up a pylon which provided electricity to Kabul. So for two months, our ARPU significantly reduced because people couldn’t charge their smartphones.”

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