Background to Tcell and Telecommunications in Tajikistan

Mobile communication in Tajikistan is growing fast. At the end of 2010, 60% of the population had mobile communication, now that number has reached 90%. Today, Tcell is the leading operator with 2.5 million subscriptions in a highly competitive local mobile market. In 2007 the total number of Tcell subscribers was less than 700,000, after the acquisition by TeliaSonera, which invested over USD 200 million in the development of the company, subscriber numbers reached 2.5 million as of Q2/2012.

Market place in nothern TajikistanTcell has relentlessly been working on providing the best coverage, services and customer care for its clients. It was first in Tajikistan to provide a GSM mobile connection and launch 3G services. Back in 1999, Tcell paved the way for the other operators by putting together an import scheme for the first mobile equipment into the country.

As a result, Tcell won a string of awards confirming it to be the operator with the highest trust level. The awards included:

  • The CIS Award for achievements in quality of products and services (2007)
  • Award of the 4th International Tournament on quality of Central and Eastern European countries in the nomination “Small and Medium Enterprises” (2008)
  • EFQM Certificate (European Fund of Quality Management) “Perfection Recognition in Europe - 5 Stars” (2008)
  • Best Taxpayer of Tajikistan-2009, 2010 and 2011” awards by the Tax Committee of the Republic of Tajikistan

As of today, Tcell’s 2G network is covering close to 100% of Tajikistan’s population. In some of the furthest areas of the country, Tcell is the only operator with the network coverage available - in particular in Anzob and Shahristan mountain passes, Lake Iskanderkul, settlements of Darvaz, Yazgulyam, Murgab and Ishkashim, and some other locations. Even in the highly mountainous and remote areas of Sugd region in the north, the Tcell 2G network covers almost 100% of the local population.

If in 2007 the total number of Tcell subscribers was less than 700,000, after the acquisition by TeliaSonera, which has invested over USD 200 million in the development of the company, our subscriber numbers reached 2.5 million as of Q2/2012.

Telecom industry in Tajikistan

While Tajikistan has experienced steady economic growth since 1997, nearly two-thirds of the population continues to live in poverty and there are limited opportunities of in-country employment. Tajikistan’s industry consists only of a large aluminum plant, some hydropower facilities, and small factories mostly in light industry and food processing. Less than seven percent of the land is arable. Lack of employment opportunities has led to intense workforce migration: almost half of the working population of Tajikistan is estimated to be working abroad. Of the population aged 15-64, over 50 percent are women. Considering that it is mostly men who are leaving the country to find jobs abroad, it can be said that Tajikistan’s population is dominated by women.

Mobile operators in Tajikistan were the first to solve the nation-wide problem with communication access by creating a modern infrastructure all around the country. According to the local Ministry of Transport and Communications, over 260,000 households from 550 settlements, which earlier did not have any kind of communication, are now enjoying access.

The telecommunication industry in Tajikistan is rapidly developing thanks to the latest technologies brought to the country by the market players. Operators offer a wide range of services, including 3G-based services such as video-calls, mobile TV, mobile Internet and much more.

The industry is taking forward not only the country’s technological development, but also its social and economic phenomena. It has so far enabled the creation of several thousand paid workplaces, offered regular support to various state budgets, and developed flexible and diverse tariff systems for customers, payable even by those with the lowest income. New enterprises are being set up all over the country to serve the needs of the telecommunications sector.

As of today, nine mobile operators are working in Tajikistan, four of which are GSM operators. All of these four operators provide GSM standard connections, 3G and 3.5G services. All four companies’ networks provide coverage for 99% of the population. If in 2004 the number of GSM subscribers in the country was about 70 thousand, in 2012 this number reached 6 million.

Thanks to the development of GSM and mobile internet, Tajikistan people have access to:

  • Distant education,
  • Tele-diagnosis,
  • Payment terminals,
  • Online shops,
  • Electronic circulation of documents between state structures and economic subjects,
  • Electronic mass media.

In addition, the development of telecommunication urges the country to educate new specialists and create new jobs, as well as understand the necessity of finding and preparing entirely new subjects for studying in schools and universities.

In the past five years, the growth of Tajikistan’s GDP was at steady 5-7%, led by the growth in telecommunications.

Tcell contribution to Tajikistan

As of today, Tcell’s 2G network is covering close to 100% of Tajikistan’s population. In some of the furthest areas of the country, Tcell is the only operator with the network coverage available - in particular in Anzob and Shahristan mountain passes, Lake Iskanderkul, settlements of Darvaz, Yazgulyam, Murgab and Ishkashim, and some other locations. Even in the highly mountainous and remote areas of Sugd region in the north, the Tcell 2G network covers almost 100% of the local population.

If in 2007 the total number of Tcell subscribers was less than 700,000, after the acquisition by TeliaSonera, which has invested over USD 200 million in the development of the company, our subscriber numbers reached 2.5 million as of Q2/2012.

Tcell is the most recognized brand in Tajikistan nowadays, keeping up to and sharing its corporate values, and continuously contributing to the country’s social and economic development through building high quality infrastructure, tax payments and social projects. 

Tcell cumulative CAPEX since acquisition (2007-H2/2012) is about USD 240 million. In 2011, Tcell paid to the state budget over TJS 230 million (about USD 50 million) in taxes and other obligatory payments.

Communication in mountainous areas

Tajikistan is a highly mountainous country, where 93% of the territory is covered with mountains and more than half of the population lives at the altitudes of over 3,000 meters above sea level. Tcell’s high-elevation sites have provided several thousand rural residents in mountainous areas a unique opportunity to stay connected to the outside world, for the first time in their lives. In such places, Tcell is the only active operator out of the nine mobile networks heavily competing for the customers.

Residents of mountainous areas say that Tcell has given them ` a vital link for communicating with the outside world´. This has further strengthened Tcell’s reputation of a company actively developing the infrastructure in mountainous areas. It is remarkable that Tcell uses its equipment not only to promote cutting-edge communication technologies, but also to demonstrate examples of efficient usage of alternative energy sources – almost all high-elevation sites are powered by solar batteries and wind generators.

Tcell for education

In 2010, Tcell, together with the Ministry of Education and Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan established Tcell Scholarship for talented students and teachers in schools and Universities. Tcell scholarship project has been a great success, drawing dozens of applications. A panel of experts selected eight winning candidates from almost a hundred applicants. Through this project, which has become an annual one, Tcell contributes to the development of the education system in Tajikistan, not only for ICT professionals, but also for the specialists of all professions countrywide.

In addition, Tcell regularly donates computers and internet access to various schools in remote areas of Tajikistan and has equipped a GSM laboratory in a technical university in the North of the country.

Tcell for the women of Tajikistan

Tcell is supporting the development of female entrepreneurship in Tajikistan through co-operation with the local micro-lending organization “IMON International” and fund FARAH.

In 2009, Tcell launched a special mobile tariff plan for women, called “Sanam”. It offered an unprecedented low price for outgoing calls within the tariff plan, thus supporting the women’s need for communication between each other. In a way, this offer encouraged women to unite in a single “mobile social network” which might become a symbol of the national female solidarity and support.

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Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED)

In its investment in Tajikistan, TeliaSonera has partnered with Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) who is the other shareholder of Tcell. AKFED is part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) which is a group of development agencies with mandates including the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, promotion of private-sector enterprise, and revitalization of historic cities. AKDN agencies conduct their programs without regard to faith, origin or gender. AKDN works towards the vision of an economically dynamic, politically stable, intellectually vibrant, and culturally tolerant Tajikistan. The majority of AKDN projects, playing an important role both in the cultural sphere and in further economic development of the country, are familiar to most of the people living in Tajikistan.

Representatives of the Aga Khan Foundation have taken active part in mediating the peacemaking process in the recent armed conflict in Gorny Badakhshan region in eastern Tajikistan (2012). AKFED has supported the government efforts to negotiate disarmament of the armed gang formations. Thanks to these mediation efforts, certain positive results have been achieved in disarmament and restoring the peaceful daily life in the region.

More information about AKFED is available at www.akdn.org/akfed