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Mobile phones enter Afghan markets

The mobile phone sector is the biggest economic success story in war-torn Afghanistan.
None | By Press Trust of India, Kabul
PUBLISHED ON JUL 25, 2006 02:04 PM IST

Afghanistan's third mobile phone operator entered the market on an auspicious note this week with a religiously favoured number combination causing a flurry of interest.

People were snapping up Areeba Afghanistan SIM cards because the first batch of telephone numbers included the combination 786 -- which in an Arabic system means "in the name of God," said one of the main mobile sellers in the capital.

The company, a subsidiary of Lebanon-based international telecommunications provider Investcom, is the third operator to set up in this troubled Islamic country since the 2001 toppling of the hardline Taliban regime.

With an investment of more than $140 million, Areeba covers four major cities -- the capital Kabul, Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and Jalalabad in the east.

However the company planned to extend across the country "soon", marketing director Henrik Eskildsen said.

The licence awarded to the company requires it to provide 50 per cent of coverage of Kabul within six months and 80 per cent to other major cities within the first year of operation.

Eskildsen said the company's policy was simplicity and transparency. "When the customers use their mobile phone, it has to be very simple to understand," he said. About 70 per cent of Afghans are illiterate.

Eskildsen would not say if the lucky 786 combination was planned or had been a fortuitous accident.

The mobile phone sector is the biggest economic success story in Afghanistan, where years of war has all-but destroyed a limited landline system.

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