CIS Telcos Battle for Broadband Business as Mobile Markets near Saturation
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.
Russia’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