Afghanistan’s vibrant cellphone ecosystem is one of the country’s economic bright spots. There are about 12.5 million cellular subscriptions in the country of 27 million people.
Jan Chipchase, executive creative director at Frog Design spent some time in Afghanistan recently for a research study on mobile banking.
In Afghanistan most cellphone users have pre-paid mobile accounts but not ATM cards (only 3 percent of the country has bank accounts) so mobile banking will take the form of SIM cards that are pre-loaded with credit and distributed to re-sellers. But that presents some major challenges. In most other countries, transporting the SIM cards and securing them would be a simple matter. That’s not the case in a war-torn environment not known for its safety, says Chipchase.
For some challenges though, there are unique local solutions. Since many users have mobile phones but no access to electricity, battery charging stalls (shown in the photo below) have popped up in cities like Mazar-e-Sharif. One hour’s battery charging costs 10 Afghanis or 0.2 cents. A stall carries a variety of chargers to suit different phones. To charge the phone, a user is given a number tag and the same number is attached to the battery and the phone. It’s a system similar to how valets keep track of the keys of a parked car.
CD players and boom boxes are sold by the roadside in cities but music is clearly moving towards mobile, says Chipchase. There are a number of “corner-shop app stores,” he says, that offer side-load ringtones, applications and movies on mobile phones.
A mobile-charging stall in Mazar-e-Sharif carries a number of battery chargers.
A 20-year-old Sony calculator wrapped by a carpenter-made casing and still in use by its one owner — a Mazar-e-Sharif cloth trader.
All photos courtesy: Jan Chipchase/Frog Design