|Founders||Ehsan Bayat, Stuart Bentham, Lord Michael Cecil|
|Ehsan Bayat (chairman)|
Number of employees
|Parent||Telephone Systems International (TSI)|
The Afghan Wireless Communication Company, commonly referred to as Afghan Wireless or AWCC, is Afghanistan's first wireless communications company. Founded in 2002, it is based in Kabul, Afghanistan with various regional offices. The company operates as a subsidiary of Telephone Systems International, which is a joint venture between the Bayat Group and the Afghan Ministry of Communications. Afghan Wireless launched the first 4G LTE service in Afghanistan in 2017, at which point it was the largest private employer in the country. It has around five million clients, and provides coverage in all of Afghanistan's provinces.
Founding and licensing
In 1998, Afghan-American telecommunications entrepreneur Ehsan Bayat won an exclusive license from Afghanistan's Taliban government to create a joint venture with the country's Ministry of Communications, which was given 20% ownership. The deal had been negotiated by investors from the United States, Britain, and Sweden. Afghan Wireless Communications Company, or AWCC, was established as a subsidiary of Telephone Systems International, and financial backing was provided by the British entrepreneurs Stuart Bentham and Lord Michael Cecil. In June 1999 the Taliban granted Afghan Wireless a 15-year monopoly on cell phone traffic in Afghanistan, and within the year Afghan Wireless had re-enabled Afghanistan's international country calling code. In 1999 and 2000 the company set up digital telephone exchanges in the cities of Kabul and Kandahar, replacing the outdated manual telephone switchboards that the country's telecommunications had long relied upon.
Although the Taliban were overthrown by an American invasion in 2001, Afghan Wireless was nevertheless the first company licensed to provide GSM wireless service in Afghanistan. With the lifting of the trade embargo, Afghan Wireless brought in technology from American vendors including WorldCom, TECORE Wireless Systems, and AirNet Communications Corporation. Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai publicly made the first phone call on April 6, 2002, calling and speaking with the Afghan ambassador to the United Nations in New York City. As the network went public using a pre-paid platform, phone booths were set up for those unable to afford cellphones. In June 2002, Argent Networks in New Zealand was contracted to help Afghan Wireless develop its GSM mobile network. The following year Argent also developed a billing system for the network, and competing companies such as Roshan started to appear.
Growth and owner lawsuits
In 2002 Bayat allegedly attempted to buy out Cecil and Bentham, but the offers were disregarded as "derisory." Bayat and Afghan Wireless subsequently sued Cecil and Bentham for allegedly misappropriating money from the company. Cecil, Bentham, and two other founding investors counter-sued, claiming they had not received over £250 million in due shares and alleging "fraud, deceit, breach of contract and conspiracy." The case was dismissed from American courts per the State Secrets Privilege, and ultimately hidden from public records and dismissed in Bayat's favor in British courts in August 2011.
Starting around 2006, Afghan Wireless was one of five companies with towers damaged and destroyed by the Taliban, with the Taliban demanding that telecommunications companies in the country limit service. The attacks were reported stopped by 2009, with the Globe and Mail explaining that "public discontent with service disruptions overwhelmed religious or tribal affiliations." By June 2008, Afghan Wireless reported to have 2 million subscribers across all 34 of Afghanistan's provinces. The company had around 5 million users by 2009. In 2011 Afghan Wireless remained partially owned by the Afghan Ministry of Communications, which maintains a 10-20% stake.
In a 2011 report by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Rose, it was alleged that Afghan Wireless was linked to an American intelligence project called Operation Foxden, a Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency endeavor to wiretap Afghan Wireless' infrastructure for intelligence gathering on the Taliban regime. Although allegedly authorized to proceed on September 8, 2001, Operation Foxden was rendered moot by the September 11 attacks and invasion of Afghanistan. Rose claimed that in the operation's planning stages, the FBI and NSA helped transfer ownership of Afghan Wireless to a shell company, Netmobile, in Liechtenstein, to circumnavigate the 1999 Executive Order 13129 ban on American citizens doing business with the Taliban. In response to the article, Bayat denied that American intelligence agencies were behind the change in ownership, and that "to the contrary, my application for an exemption from U.S. sanctions was denied by the U.S. government." Bayat also denied that he or his companies had acted unlawfully, installed wiretaps, or acted as "an agent, informant or spy."
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Recent growth in the company
Afghan Wireless launched a mobile-money feature in 2012 involving biometrics. In 2017, the Afghanistan Ministry of Finance gave Afghan Wireless a 'Best Large Taxpayer' award. Afghan Wireless announced it had launched the first 4G LTE service in Afghanistan in May 2017. At the time, Afghan Wireless also claimed to be the largest private employer in Afghanistan, with 8,000 employees. It also as of 2017 partnered with 425 wireless networks spread throughout 125 countries, with five million clients and coverage in all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. In February 2018, Afghan Wireless announced that its mobile payment service could be used on electricity bills. That March, Afghan Wireless signed a new license agreement with the Afghanistan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ATRA) for installation and operation of a fiber optic network. By April 2018, Afghan Wireless remained the only mobile communications company in Afghanistan providing 4G LTE HD. That month, it increased pay assistance to its employees attending Kardan University and Rana University.
- List of companies of Afghanistan
- Communications in Afghanistan
- List of telephone operating companies
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- "Company Overview of Afghan Wireless Communication Company". Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg L.P. n.d. Retrieved 2017-10-06.
- "Afghan Wireless Launches First 4G LTE Network in Afghanistan by Amy Nordrum". IEEE Spectrum. June 1, 2017. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- Nystedt, Dan (23 June 2008). "Mobile Phone Use Grows in Afghanistan". PC World. Retrieved 2016-08-08.
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- "Afghanistan: First Commercial Mobile-Phone Network Launched by Ron Synovitz". RadioLiberty. April 8, 2002. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
- Farmer, Ben (27 May 2009). "Lord Michael Cecil sues Afghan billionaire over £250m phone deal". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-08-08.
- Cobain, Ian (27 March 2012). "US acted to conceal evidence of intelligence failure before 9/11". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-08-08.
- "Telephone Systems International and Ehsanollah Bayat Defeat US$400 Million Claim Brought by Lord Michael Cecil, Stuart Bentham and Alexander Grinling Bringing 9 Years of Litigation to a Close" (Press release). London: PR Newswire. Paul Hastings LLP. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 2016-08-08.
- "How Afghanistanis on the Leading Edge of a Tech Revolution by Erik Heinrich". TIME. March 2, 2013. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- "Ministry of Finance Appreciates 'Best Large Taxpayers". National Radio Television of Afghanistan. 2017. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- "Afghan Wireless Launches Afghanistan's First 4G/LTE Communications Network". AfghanWireless. 2017. Retrieved March 20, 2018.