With its relatively small population of less than 350,000 living on many islands across the archipelago, providing good communications for the Maldives has been paramount. The nation has addressed this challenge with considerable success, and now prides itself on having built one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in the region, according to Research & Markets.
With the country's well-developed national network, the capital Malé is particularly well served, as are the tourist resort islands; this has been further enhanced by the provision of a major submarine cable connection to Sri Lanka. At the same time, the opportunity has been taken to provide undersea links between the main atolls, thereby substantially strengthening the domestic connectivity.
Efficient telecommunications services have been established to all inhabited islands by the national telco, Dhivehi Raajjeyge Gulhun Pvt Ltd (Dhiraagu). Dhiraagu, initially set up as a joint venture between the government and Cable & Wireless plc, has played a major role in establishing the country's telecoms infrastructure. Despite having been criticised in the early stages of development for its high tariff structure, the company has played an undeniably important role in building networks and delivering telephone services across the archipelago. Dhiraagu's shareholding was opened to public investment in late 2011 when an IPO saw the government sell off some of its stake.
Dhiraagu was initially granted an exclusive licence to provide all telecommunications services in the country. With its licence renewal in 1995, the operator was given a more clearly stated mandate to provide telephone access to all inhabited islands by the year 2000. The Dhiraagu monopoly was officially set to run out in 2008. However, the government moved to open up the market earlier than that. The licensing of a second ISP by the government in 2002 signalled its intention to proceed with deregulation ahead of time. A second mobile licence was issued in 2004; however the new operator Wataniya Telecom did not become operational until 2006.
Despite the slow start, the introduction of a level of competition quickly saw the telecom market boom. By 2011 Wataniya had an estimated 130,000 mobile subscribers or just under one quarter of the market. At the same time the incumbent was also continuing to vigorously grow its mobile subscriber base. Mobile penetration in the Maldives had almost reached a remarkable 170% by the start of 2012. However, mobile subscriber growth was finally ‘flattening out' and the market's attention was shifting to new generation offering. Both operators had launched 3G and higher services, and the take up rate was particularly strong.