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CIS Telcos Battle for Broadband Business as Mobile Markets near Saturation

28 апреля 2008

The most exciting growth story in the most populous parts of the Russian Federation may no longer be in the mobile space. This may also be true of western Russia’s near neighbours, Ukraine and Belarus.

In the case of Russia and Ukraine, Informa Telecoms & Media’s WCIS database records mobile penetration as of March 2008 as 125.95% and 122.22% respectively. Even allowing for the fact that, by definition, these figures indicate the prevalence of customers using multiple SIM cards, the mobile operators in these two countries are now well beyond the stage of being to able to put new customer acquisition at the heart of their strategies.

’s mobile market is dominated by three cellcos with a national presence – Vimpelcom (branded Beeline), MTS and MegaFon. For these big players, growth could potentially be achieved through winning their competitors’ most profitable customers. However, operators must be confident that their systems offer a sufficiently sophisticated view of customer value in order to succeed in this arena. They must also be mindful of the need to retain their own high value subscribers at the same time as trying to poach the premium customers of their rivals.

Another interesting prospect for the region’s mobile operators may be the opportunity presented by relatively weaker fixed line infrastructure and lower wireline teledensity. As in other world regions, purely mobile players may be able to meet customer demands for Internet access and data services which are not met by the owners of ADSL, cable or fixed-wireless networks. However, long delays in the processes around the acquisition of 3G licenses and radio spectrum have narrowed this window of opportunity somewhat. Frustratingly for
Russia’s mobile businesses, it is still not possible to offer 3G services on a commercial basis in the vital Moscow metropolitan area. The Russian Defence Ministry has long voiced concerns about the possibility of 3G networks interfering with military anti-missile warning systems. Last month, the authorities finally gave the green light to the operators’ UMTS network tests in the Moscow region. A March report from Kommersant quoted Valery Butenko, president of the National Radio Association, who indicated that his agency had been assisting with the allocation of frequencies for W-CDMA networks in the Moscow region.

It remains to be seen whether 3G services will be a commercial reality in
Moscow in time for Informa’s annual Russia & CIS Com congress in Moscow, held this year 3-4 June at the city’s SAS Radisson Slavanskaya Hotel & Business Center. If not, delegates are sure to use the opportunity to quiz mobile operator representatives about the likely time scale for going live with 3G services. Among these representatives will be Alexey Nichiporenko, Deputy CEO of MegaFon and Garrett Johnston, Group Director of Strategic Marketing of MTS. Also present will be SkyLink CEO, Gulnara Khasianova. SkyLink and MTS are both companies in which Sistema Telecom has a stake, one distinction between the two being that SkyLink has played in the mobile broadband space for longer, using CDMA2000 networks in major markets to deliver fast data services.

The delays around bringing 3G services to market in the most important regions appears to have created room for the growth of services delivered over WiMAX networks. From within the Sistema group, fixed line operator Comstar said in December that it has tapped Intel to help it build out a mobile WiMAX network in the
Moscow region. Meanwhile, WiMAX watchers such as Maravedis are reporting that
the Russian Federation is among the world’s top five Wireless Broadband markets, noting that WISPs, such as Enforta, Quantum, and Synterra, have already launched services in numerous regions and are enjoying early successes and considerable demand from consumers and businesses. It is therefore very fitting that Synterra CEO Vitaly Slizen is also joining the panel of speakers at CEE Com.

In this context of cellcos competing with fixed and fixed-wireless operators for broadband business, it seems that the net must be cast wider still for effective differentiation and new revenue opportunities. One hopeful area may be around finding synergies between cellular and wireline businesses with common ownership. In December, mobile giant Vimpelcom completed the acquisition of fixed-line telco Golden Telecom. From the theme of Golden Telecom’s proposed presentations at Russia & CIS Com in June, it would appear that fixed-mobile convergence is firmly in the company’s sights, enabled by coming under the Vimpelcom umbrella. Delegates will be able to learn more from Golden Telecom CEO Jean-Pierre Vandromme. Given that Sistema’s various companies include a mix of fixed and mobile assets, delegates may also want to quiz that group’s various representatives about its plans for convergent technologies and services.

Looking beyond
Russia itself, the desire to win in the broadband arena appears to be at the heart of strategies being developed in both Ukraine and Belarus. In the latter, state-owned incumbent carrier Beltelecom has been relatively slow to get deeply involved in the mobile sector, restricting its activities to holding a 25% stake in BeST, a GSM operator which lags a long way behind its two main rivals in terms of market share. Over 90% of the Belarusian subscriber base is split between the country’s MTS subsidiary and Telekom Austria-owned MDC. BeST has found it very challenging to grow its business, which may explain recent rumours about the company’s possible sale to Turkcell.

Beltelecom itself seems to see more potential in growing the Internet access services market. The company already commands a market share in this area totalling over 60%. However, Beltelecoms’s Internet services are currently are dominated by dial-up access, representing about 80% of all subscribers – and the market itself is small.
  In October 2007, the company announced its intention to deploy multi-service data networks using NGN technology. Beltelecom General Director Konstantin Tikar is a welcome later addition to the speaker panel of Russia & CIS Com. The challenges his company faces in extending the reach of broadband services in Belarus will form the theme of his keynote session presentation.

Now in its sixth year, Russia & CIS Com is not a new event, although regular visitors to the conference will be more familiar with the name “GSM>3G Russia & CIS.” The reasons for the re-branding and the vigorous efforts to attract representatives of every kind of telcos (mobile, fixed, integrated, cable, WISP and more) should be clear to all who understand that the fixed-mobile distinction continues to blur further. All these players are competing (and sometimes cooperating) to win a share of customers’ telecoms and ICT budgets in this fast-growing economy. So it makes perfect sense to gather them all together for two days of networking and sometimes very robust discussions. Businesses from beyond the region that are keen to explore the opportunities offered by
Russia and other CIS states are urged to get involved.

To register your interest in this event, visit http://www.ComWorldSeries.com/RussiaCIS.

Источник: Com World Series

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