Afghan telco Roshan eyes 30 pct subscribers boost

Mon May 17, 2010 4:28am EDT

* Aims to add at least 1.2 mln new subscribers by end-2011

* Says will continue to invest $30-80 mln per year

ABU DHABI May 17 (Reuters) - Afghan telecom operator Roshan aims to add increase subscriber numbers by at least 1.2 million, or 30 percent, by next year and will invest up to $80 million annually to gain market share, its chief executive said on Monday.

Roshan currently has 3.8 million subscribers and competes with four international operators including the UAE's Etisalat ETEL.AD in a market with a population of 30 million.

"We expect that by end 2011 we will have 5 million active subscribers through our coverage expansion and capacity increase," Karim Khoja told Reuters on the sidelines of a telecoms conference.

Privately-held Roshan has invested $50 million to $80 million annually since it began operations in 2003, with total investments of $450 million so far, he said.

"We will continue to invest $30 to $80 million per year as we are very committed despite the Taliban," he said.

Nine years after U.S.-led troops toppled their government, the Taliban have made a comeback and have inflicted heavy losses on foreign and Afghan forces in the country.

The penetration rate is only 30 percent in the war-battered country, so the potential is huge for expansion.

"We plan to add 20 to 80 new towns and villages for coverage ... as we are focused on rural areas," Khoja said.

The firm also plans to introduce new products following the launch of "mobile money" an SMS-based money remittance facility.

Revenue growth has been "steady" Khoja said, declining to provide figures as it is a private company.

In 2008, the firm earned $200 million in revenues, he said, adding "it is growing each year."

Afghanistan does not have a stock market yet but the government is planning to set up one, he said. "When that happens, we will look at listing."

Roshan is 51-percent owned by the Aga Khan Group, while Monaco Telecom holds 37.5 percent. The rest is owned by Finnish-Swedish telco TeliaSoneria (TLSN.ST) (Reporting by Stanley Carvalho; Editing by Hans Peters)

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