Kazakhstan has the largest and strongest performing economy in Central Asia. Strategically, it links the large and fast-growing markets of China and South Asia and those of Russia and Western Europe by road, rail, and a port on the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan’s longer-term development policy challenge is to transform its growth model away from reliance on natural resource extraction toward a more diversified, competitive economy.
The Internet penetration rate was near 55% in 2015. All four of Kazakhstan’s cellular operators were expected to have 4G LTE networks live in all regional capitals by the third quarter of 2016, and to have expanded services to most cities by the end of 2016. Market penetration increased rapidly from 23% in 2010 to 57% in 2013. Since then the market stabilised and has been growing at a more moderate rate. Penetration by 2016 reached 61%.
Revenue growth in telecoms markets has been diminishing in the last few years, according to figures released by Kazakhstan’s Statistics Agency. The mobile market has experienced particularly strong growth over the last decade, increasing the overall number of mobile subscribers up to 31 million in 2016. The mobile market may be considered now highly mature and saturated. On the other hand, the fixed broadband market in Kazakhstan remains relatively underdeveloped, due to the dominance of mobile broadband. Regarding regulatory agencies, there are at least 8 state governmental authorities (“SGAs”) with telecommunications jurisdiction in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan, geographically the largest of the former Soviet republics, excluding Russia, possesses substantial fossil fuel reserves and other minerals and metals, such as uranium, copper, and zinc. It also has a large agricultural sector featuring livestock and grain. The government realizes that its economy suffers from an overreliance on oil and extractive industries and has embarked on an ambitious diversification program, aimed at developing targeted sectors like transport, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, petrochemicals and food processing. Kazakhstan’s vast hydrocarbon and mineral reserves form the backbone of its economy. The country is landlocked and depends on Russia to export its oil to Europe.
In 2010, Kazakhstan joined Russia and Belarus to establish a Customs Union in an effort to boost foreign investment and improve trade. The Customs Union evolved into a Single Economic Space in 2012 and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in January 2015.
The economic downturn of its EEU partner, Russia, and the decline in global commodity prices have contributed to an economic slowdown in Kazakhstan, which is experiencing its slowest economic growth since the financial crises of 2008-09. In spring 2015, Kazakhstan embarked on an ambitious reform agenda to modernize its economy and improve its institutions. Despite some positive institutional and legislative changes, investors remain concerned about corruption, bureaucracy, and arbitrary law enforcement, especially at the regional and municipal levels.
Kazakhtelecom, the largest telecom operator in Kazakhstan and a de facto monopoly, has the largest network by far, which includes fibre-optic lines connecting all major cities of the country and connections to all bordering countries. KazakhTelecom is the operator of the national data transfer network, which connects the major cities of Kazakhstan. The number of fixed-line subscribers reaches around 90 percent of the market.