31 Dec 2008

2008: meeting the challenges; 2009: more of the same

It's probably not very hard to work out that one reason for my writing this blog is to raise the profile of our Com World Series suite of telecoms sector discussion/networking/exhibition events. However, were I to do nothing more than copy text from our marketing materials and paste it here, I daresay I would get bored even faster than anyone reading these entries. For me at least, it's been fun to look out for telecoms-related news and then relate it to accounts of the people we meet and the things we hear while creating and attending these gatherings.

Reading back over my posts, I do notice that the need to promote our conferences seems to lead to my adopting a fairly optimistic tone when describing developments in the emerging markets in which we, our delegates and sponsors/exhibitors do business.

I make no excuses for this. A big part of my team's work is to keep reminding telecoms tech vendors of the technology requirements of operators in higher growth markets. We then strive to persuade the vendors that two days at a Com World Series show, meeting representatives of telcos from all over the region it serves, represents a time-efficient and cost-effective route to market. It therefore comes naturally to us to be bullish about growth prospects in the parts of the world in which we connect vendors with their customers and prospective customers.

However, in order to do this, I don't believe we have to misrepresent the positive buzz we experience in our conference rooms and exhibition areas. As recently as Saturday last week, I noted the optimism expressed by speakers at this month's Middle East region Com World Series event in Dubai.

However, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that this has been a challenging year for many of the people with whom we engage worldwide. If I were to confine my reading to telecoms industry news sources, I might be seduced into thinking that the countries and regions in which our friends and partners work are places typified by glad tidings of subscriber growth and market liberalisation. Of course, it's not possible to keep an eye on these parts of the world without getting a wider sense of what life there is really like. By talking with telecoms people from around the world, I am fortunate enough to hear from primary sources about the more difficult aspects of living and working in their various home (and adopted) countries. This adds colour and detail to the items I see on the TV news. More importantly, I get to see sensible people who go about their business very effectively in challenging environments. Further, the efforts of these people are combining to catalyse positive change - I am thinking in terms of things like:
  • how telecoms services reaching the world's less advantaged people quickly improves and enriches their lives
  • microfinance initiatives, sachet pricing and other measures designed to make services more affordable
  • green power technologies and innovative backhaul solutions designed to get services into remote and often impoverished areas
In this final blog entry of 2008, then, I find myself reflecting on the signs of trouble in the world of which my globe-trotting makes me more aware.

A news item which resonated for me last week was one picked up by myriad telecoms blogs and news portals, orginiating, I believe from this Reuters report. This was widely covered, so I won't repeat every detail here. To summarise, the story concerns a Nokia store in India being attacked by protestors enraged by the fact that the handset maker's mapping software shows Indian-claimed Kashmir as being within the borders of Pakistan. I was immediately reminded of a similar problem experienced by the Com World Series team. Some time ago, brochures were designed to promote our annual India & South Asia region event. One graphic element of the brochure was a map of the region from which delegates were to be gathered. The designer unwittingly committed much the same faux pas with regard to Kashmir as Nokia's mappers seem to have done. A contact in India was kind enough to point this out before the brochures were put in the mail - but once they had been printed... you live and learn...

Last week's Reuters story notes that "political sensitivities are an increasing problem for map making software vendors - such as how to deal with disputed borders or even national claims on areas such as Taiwan or Cyprus", going on to add that "back in 2001, Panasonic had a 12 month ban import imposed on it for selling phones in China which listed Taiwan as a separate country on the internal phonebook."

Our business has faced more serious and more costly problems than that in 2008. For example, the 2009 iteration of the India & South Asia conference, which was meant to take place early in the new year, has been pushed back to May as a result of the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai, the host city for the event. This is not without precedent. Earlier this year, our East Africa Com event was shifted from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam as a result of the unrest in Kenya following on from the disputed election results of December 2007.

On my own travels, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks roaming around South America this year, working to boost attendance at our annual Americas Com event. One stop on the tour was Bolivia, where I visited operators in two cities, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. In both of these, we could not fail to notice signs of the differences over the exploitation of energy resources which underlie recurring political crises. My understanding is that there exists a resultant desire for greater autonomy for some of the country's regions. We saw a demonstration in one city and plenty of related grafitti in the other.

These observations notwithstanding, I am choosing to face 2009 with determination to overcome any obstacles to my own aims which created by economic turmoil and political conditions. This is made easier by the great spirit and good fellowship I find among many, many telecoms people worldwide who face far greater levels of challenge than I or my team ever have to detal with. On that note, I wish you all a Happy New Year.

30 Dec 2008

3G Americas on LatAm region's contribution to the 4 billion global mobile subs

Just before the Christmas break, our friends at 3G Americas flagged up a historic milestone for the cellular industry, announcing that as of December 2008 there exist "4 billion connections to mobile devices worldwide." Citing the number crunching of our very own market watchers at Informa Telecoms & Media, the GSM family-focused wireless industry trade association noted that this "represents 60% of the entire global population today" and that "in some countries, millions of people are now experiencing connectivity to the world for the first time through wireless and changing their economic, social and political fortunes forever."

The 3G Americas release goes on to quote Marisol Gomez, our LatAm region analyst, with whom I've had the pleasure of working in the last few months. Marisol says: "the Latin America and Caribbean region continues to show steady consumer growth with 16% year-on-year growth as subscription numbers are expected to reach in excess of 440 million, equating to 76% penetration."

I remain keen to keep an eye on the Latin American mobile scene, not least because preparations for the next GSM Americas/Americas Com conference are well underway. As part of this, the Com World Series team is now working much more closely with our Sao Paulo-based colleagues at sister company Informa Brasil. Marisol and I have both been involved in detailed briefings designed to ensure that we harmonise our efforts with our Brazilian friends and jointly add value to an already well-established regional discussion and networking forum. We return to Rio de Janeiro for the 2009 iteration, hosting the event at the wonderful beachfront Windsor Barra Hotel 30th June-1st July.

It's gratifying to see the folks at 3G Americas continuing to cite Informa TM market information given that I've personally striven to develop further our partnership with Chris Pearson, who heads up the association and Erasmo Rojas, who leads activities in Latin America. For as long as I've been involved in our Americas event, Chris and Erasmo have jointly led a co-located 3G Americas Executive Briefing, which assembles CxO-level speakers from leading mobile carriers. We are on track to offer this feature of the conference once again in 2009, and both sides have been discussing how we can do even more to ensure that the audience maximises the opportunity to engage with the panellists and derive maximum value from their presence.

Chris and Erasmo both seem very keen that the wider conference begins to offer more insights around the roadmap for evolution towards LTE.

"Third generation technologies continue to evolve and the GSM operator today has a clear path towards LTE," stated Chris earlier this month. "In addition to the evolution to LTE by GSM operators, LTE is proving to be the technology choice for CDMA operators as well."

3G Americas quote Informa TM's estimate that there are nearly 415 million 3G subscriptions to date, with 77% share of the 3G market on UMTS/HSPA networks or 320 million connections, and the remaining 95 million on CDMA EV-DO. Our figures suggest that the number of commercial UMTS/HSPA networks has risen to 258 in more than 100 countries, including 41 networks in 20 countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

"HSPA and HSPA+ will compete with any and all mobile wireless technologies available today and in the near future," concludes Chris Pearson. "In fact, recent commercial launches of HSPA+, such as that of Telstra in Australia, are reporting peak theoretical downlink speeds of 21.6 Mbps. 3G is more than capable of delivering the bandwidth customers need today, and the emerging LTE technology provides us with a clear evolution path for the future."

29 Dec 2008

HSPA subs growing in Saudi Arabia; market developments in slow-to-liberalise Kuwait

While I was moderating conference sessions at this month's GSM>3G Middle East conference in Dubai, I had the pleasure of introducing a representative of Saudi cellco Mobily to the audience.
Mohamed A. Radwan heads up the development of the MNO's chain of retail outlets and told conference participants about the company's approach to promoting all 3.5 G capabilities and VAS. According to the notes I made on the day, Mohamed did not share numbers regarding HSPA subscriber growth. I was therefore interested to see this question addressed in an edition of Global Mobile Daily last week. The Informa Telecoms & Media research service says that the number of Mobily's HSPA-based subscriptions has reached 300,000, having acquired this number of subs in the 18 months since launching a mobile broadband bundle in May 2007. Mobily charges SAR350 per month (USD 93.40) for the service and also has higher usage bundles on offer - 5GB for SAR200 and 1GB for SAR200.

The same issue of GMD picked up news of Kuwait's Ministy of Communications moving to reduce the cost of calling several European and Arab countries. The MoC has a free hand in such matters. The market is the least liberalised in the MENA region: fixed line network operations remain the exclusive preserve of the MoC itself and the Gulf state has no independent regulator.

The mobile space in Kuwait is rather more competitive, even more so since the September 2008 launch of Saudi Telecom-backed Viva, the country's newest cellco. It will be interesting to see how this third entrant fares on a market described in the abstract of my friend Paul Budde's country profile as having "[high] prices... across all sectors of the market" and a "comfortable duopoly enjoyed by Zain and Wataniya [which] has enabled them to build on their strong base to expand aggressively internationally to compete on a global scale."

Something I didn't know ahead of writing today's entry was that until very recently, Kuwaiti mobile users have had to pay to receive incoming calls. I just stumbled upon this personal blog, which reported earlier this month that Viva had broken the mould by implementing a pure Calling Party Pays model. From the comments which this entry prompted on the blog, it looks like Zain moved to introduce CPP a mere 12 hours later. I am not clear if Wataniya has done likewise or plans to do so. Warning: if you do follow the link to the blog which picked this up, prepare yourself for reader comments expressed in pretty strong language and people whose criticisms of Kuwait's operators are much less diplomatic than anything you will ever read here!

If this information is to be believed, it does suggest that Paul Budde's comment about a "comfortable duopoly" might not have been too wide of the mark - and that this duopoly has been quickly attacked by the new entrant.

I am not clear when Kuwait plans to set up an independent regulator. Global Mobile Daily suggested as long ago as August 2007 that this was a work in progress and set to be discussed "during the next National Assembly session." I haven't seen news of any developments since then and when a colleague of mine went on a fact-finding tour of the Middle East earlier this year, I do remember a number of his research respondents expressing frustration about the pace of helpful change in the country.

I can't pretend to know enough (yet!) about the MENA region to understand why the speed of evolution towards more progressive regulatory regimes is so uneven across the various markets. In Dubai this month, I certainly got the sense that things are moving faster in some states. One example would seem to be Bahrain, whose regulatory agency sent Deputy Director Tomas Lamanauskas to speak at our conference. I asked Tomas how a Lithuanian had ended up at the Bahraini regulator and learned that he had made the move from the equivalent body in his home country. Tomas told me that to some extent, his new employer is seeking to create a regulatory regime which resembles the EU framework. Tomas replied affirmatively when I asked if, in a sense, his latest role had something in common with the job of harmonising Lithuania's regime to the European framework, something which I remember being a big topic of conversation a CEE region conferences some years ago, not least among delegates from then soon-to-be EU accession states.

28 Dec 2008

Turk Telekom to grow business into Macedonia?

Looking back over some of the stories which popped up while I was away on holiday, I noticed that Global Mobile Daily picked up news of the Turkish incumbent fixed-line operator's interest in acquiring the 2nd-placed MNO in the small market of Macedonia (population approx 2 million). I am not clear to what extent any new owner (other interested parties seem to include Telekom Austria and Telekom Slovenije) would be able to grow the business. In addition to the Balkan country being a market of limited size, it is one for which our WCIS reports mobile penetration as 112.17% as of September 2008. Moreover, first-placed T-Mobile has established a commanding lead in terms of market share. According to WCIS, the Deutsche Telekom-aligned cellco owns 67.88% of subscriptions versus market shares of 32.13% and 12.16% for Cosmofon and VIP respectively.

VIP is part of the mobilkom austria group, itself a subsidiary of Telekom Austria - so if the Austrian incumbent's reported interest in Cosmofon is for real, I would assume that they would be thinking in terms of consolidating the Macedonian market down to two players.

Cosmofon's current owner is the Cosmote group, a company controlled by Greek incumbent carrier OTE. Assuming that the Greek group welcomes the interest being shown in its Macedonian outpost, this seems to represent another retreat from an East European market, OTE having not long quit Armenia. OTE sold its interest in Armentel, that country's then-monopolist wireline carrier (and associated mobile business) to Vimpelcom of Russia in late 2006.

If the Cosmofon story has played out by the end of March, and if Turk Telekom prevails, I daresay delegates at our Eurasia Com event in Istanbul will be keen to ask the company's CEO Dr. Paul Doany where the acquisition fits into his broader strategy.

27 Dec 2008

More on the optimism expressed at GSM>3G Middle East

After considerable quantities of roast Turkey, mince pies etc., it's time to round up some more of what was discussed at our recent GSM>3G Middle East event in Dubai. The focus here is on the second day's proceedings.

One thing we took away from both days' discussions was the widely expressed sense of optimism that the Middle East's telcos will weather the economic downturn relatively unscathed. Day two opened with a speech from Dr Marwan Alahmadi, CEO of Zain's Saudi operation, who described the new entrant's successes to date - and was bullish about the way ahead.

Great confidence was also expressed by speakers from both FRiENDi mobile and Majan Telecom, two companies looking to thrive as MVNOs on the Omani market. The afternoon saw a robust presentation from Mobinil on the ever more pressing necessity to provide a dashboard of VAS to both protect current and expand future revenues. Judging by the enthusiastic questions directed at the Egyptian cellco's Commercial VP Guillaume van Gaver, this presentation struck a chord with a receptive audience.

For my part, I moderated sessions whose broad theme was around extending the availability and improving the affordability of communications services in lower ARPU markets with less easily addressable demand. Among the speakers in this session, it was great to meet Khaled Khorshid, currently the Regional COO of Zain Sudan. After sharing useful insights about how to grow a successful mobile operator, Khaled mentioned that his personal journey is about to take him to another outpost of the Zain empire - he is being dispatched to the Nigerian operation. Khaled was kind enough to volunteer to join the panel of speakers at the Com World Series event which takes place in that country's capital so I have encouraged my colleague who covers Africa to take up the offer. So look out for Khaled among the speaker line-up for West & Central Africa Com in Abuja in June 2009.

The Dubai event was enjoyable and rewarding for me - and I am looking forward hopefully to reading positive feedback from delegates early in the new year. The work leading to the creation of the 2009 Middle East event begins now.

25 Dec 2008

Impressions of day one of our GSM>3G Middle East event

Writing a blog entry on Christmas morning? A sure sign of a workaholic? Maybe for some. In my case, it's more to do with seeking some relief from watching my 3-year old son's Mr Men DVD for what seems like the zillionth time. Having risen at just before 5 a.m., the young man concerned has insisted on yet another run through every single episode of the classic kids' cartoon. I am not allowed to leave the room, it seems, so I might as well apply the brain to something other than the antics of Mr. Grumpy, Mr Bump et al.

This is, therefore an opportunity to share some of what happened at this year's GSM>3G Middle East conference and exhibition in Dubai, which kept my team and I busy on 15-16 December. I have time now to reflect on the event's first day - and will go over the second day's discussions once the seasonal round of visits to family and friends is over for another year.

The conference element of the event was opened by the Plenary Session Chairman, our very own Mark Newman, who spoke about how the Middle East's telecoms sector is booming, with mobile penetration set to grow by nearly 20 per cent to 77 per cent over the next 5 years. This bullish mood was echoed by the UAE's largest telco (and official endorser/sponsor of our event) Etisalat, whose Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Nasser Bin Obood used the Keynote Address to flag up the company's expansion plans. While I was on a short sunshine break immediately after the Dubai show, I got word of the next plank of this expansion strategy. Global Mobile Daily this week told me that Etisalat has submitted the highest bid for Iran's third mobile license, as part of a consortium that includes Iran-based Tamin Telecom.

According to Etisalat, the Iranian Communications Regulatory Authority has placed the operator "first among others in terms of financial offer." Etisalat added that the winner will be announced after official approval is granted. In a statement, Etisalat said it expects Iran's mobile market to have "a very promising future," because of the low penetration in the country, which has a population of 73 million.

Iran first began moves to launch its third GSM-license tender in August. However, the tender has remained overshadowed by legal wrangles after Turkey's Turkcell initiated proceedings in the International Court for Arbitration over its failed attempts to launch a network in Iran.
Foreign players known to be interested in entering the Iranian market include Russia's three major mobile players: MTS, VimpelCom, and MegaFon. Regarding the latter, I can personally testify to the Russian cellco not being coy about its interest in the Iranian licence. Back in June, I welcomed MegaFon's Deputy CEO Sergei Soldatenkov to our annual Russia/CIS event in Moscow, at which he was one of the key speakers. Later at the same event, Mr Soldatenkov was among the most notable people firing questions to a speaker from an Iranian delegation, which was on hand to raise the visibility of this and other investment opportunities in their country's telecoms sector. I am looking forward to another opportunity to meet Mr Soldatenkov in Istanbul. On March 31, he will be among the leading speakers at our Eurasia Com event, the Com World Series gathering of telecoms execs who have an interest in the markets of Central Asia, the Caucasus region and the conference's host country itself. Soldatenkov heads up the company which manages MegaFon's international subsidiaries, so he was a great choice to represent the company at an event whose audience will be drawn from the markets into which Russian cellcos first expanded their footprints. While I was out of the country, I learned that the Eurasia Com Plenary Session roundtable discussion, in which Mr Soldatenkov will be taking part, has a further confirmed participant. Joining the discussion will be a genuine mobile sector pioneer, Sir Julian Horn-Smith, who retired as Deputy Chief Executive of Vodafone Group plc in August 2006, having served with Vodafone since 1984 and for a decade as a board director, latterly from 2001-05 as Chief Operating Officer. One of Sir Julian's current roles is serving as an Advisory Board member for Altimo, the Russian investment group whose assets include stakes in Vimpelcom, MegaFon, Kyivstar (Ukraine) and Turkcell.

Another Keynote Session speaker in Dubai this month was Ross Cormack, CEO of Omani MNO Nawras, who spoke about how his company has benefited from being first to market with 3.5G services: "We had to make sure we had customers that wanted the service and services that they would want. So we listened to customers and responded to customers. The result has been pleasing growth and it's not as though we're going up against an unpopular competitor."

What was evident from the first day's discussions is that mobile broadband in the Middle East is heavily tipped to grow as strongly as in Europe. During the lead in to the event, I had the pleasure of exchanging correspondence with Dr. Slim Saidi of Zain's new KSA operation. Slim was instrumental in setting up the Zain Saudi Arabia CEO as a day two speaker and stood in for Dr. Marwan for a day one roundtable discussion, during which he indicated that there is significant potential for mobile broadband and that it is now just a matter of reaching those subscribers and providing access.

This rallying call was picked up by Farid Lekhal, Chief Commercial Officer of Vodafone Partner Markets, who said the way forward is to exploit the potential of the latest internet-capable devices and champion the accessibility of on-portal and third party services.

Vodafone has had the opportunity to learn from the mistakes made in its partner markets, leading the operator to conclude that third party applications do not cannibalise traffic on the network. "On the contrary, they expand it, and there is still room for operators to have portals," he said.

Tayfun Cataltepe, Chief Corporate Strategy Officer at Turkcell, shared the other operators' enthusiasm for internet mobility, declaring that, "Mobile broadband doesn't mean you have to be a dumb pipe."

"Mobile broadband is the future of telecoms on the whole, and the term 'broadband' will even fall out of usage as all connectivity will become 'broad'," he said. Cataltepe revealed that the Turkish cellco will launch 3G services in June 2009, and hinted that it would enable third parties to provided services on the network as a core part of its strategy. "The classical VAS (value added service) model is based on revenue sharing," said Cataltepe. "Those with the most creative services will make the most money, so operators will need to seek a revenue sharing agreement," he said.

Zain's Saidi agreed: "Access is a commodity now, so people are willing to pay for services they use. When the customers demand services it's up to the operators to deliver," he said. Also on the panel was Fouad Brahim Boumakh, president and CEO of Nano-Techpower, a start up which specialises in using nanotechnology to improve the battery performance of wireless devices, who summed up the sentiment over mobile broadband: "The name of the broadband game is any application, anywhere, on any device." Fouad approached me about joining the discussion a couple of weeks ahead of the event, and I was pleased to accept his proposal when I learned that his company is set to roll out nationwide WiMAX-based services in Algeria. I felt that adding this kind of new entrant to the discussion would usefully broaden the perspectives represented on the panel.

Later the same day, I enjoyed personally moderating one of the conference breakout sessions, whose broad theme was around how operators will need to refine further their marketing and product strategies as their markets become yet more competitive. It was a pleasure to introduce the various speakers, to chip in with questions where I could and to encourage audience members to do likewise. I am very keen for guests at our events to maximise the opportunity to engage with the speakers we assemble for them. I hope I was able to achieve this to a useful degree. Also, sitting up on stage in front of a large audience is actually easier than the many, many tasks executed by my Informa TM colleagues on-site at the event, all working hard to make sure delegates' time with us is maximally enjoyable and productive. At an event of this scale, the guys and girls of the Com World Series team really do perform brilliantly and I'd like to thank them all here for their good humour, good fellowship and hard graft.

Among the speakers I was personally able to introduce was someone with whom I've maintained an on-and-off correspondence for at least a couple of years. It was therefore a particular pleasure finally to meet Tushar Maheshwari in the flesh. Tushar is now Chief Commercial Officer of Warid Telecom Uganda, who picked up a gong at our recent Africa Com Awards in Cape Town. Tushar took questions after his speech and then dashed off to another awards ceremony elsewhere in Dubai to collect yet another prize on behalf of his company. As these accolades clearly demonstrate, and as his presentation made clear, Warid have had an impressive first year in Uganda. Tushar is clearly a man unafraid of a challenge. When I first connected with him, he was in the CCO role at Afghan Wireless, a competitor in a uniquely challenging market.

Across the two days in Dubai, aorund 2,000 people from operators, service providers, vendors, regulators and the media gathered at GSM>3G Middle East, which we subtitled Towards a Broadband World in order to make it clear that in the context of many forms of convergence (fixed-mobile, telco-media, telco-IT etc.) we feel it's high time to widen the audience beyond the cellular sector players who have supported the event for a decade-and-a-half.

18 Dec 2008

Season's Greetings

GSM>3G Middle East featured a good-sized audience, great presentations, lively discussions and lots of useful networking. I will write more about the event when I return from a (too short) sunshine break, for which I am just about to leave. I think the taxi may be outside already...

This blog(ger) will be offline until just after Christmas Day. In the meantime, I wish all readers and Com World Series supporters happy holidays - and a prosperous New Year for those of you able to stay offline for longer than I am!

14 Dec 2008

GSM>3G Middle East: setting up for tomorrow's event

GSM>3G Middle East event: Will we get updates on stakes in Iran's TCI?

Greetings from (very) sunny Dubai, where my team and I are busily making last-minute preparations for our annual GSM>3G Middle East conference and exhibition, which kicks off tomorrow morning at 09.00, local time. Registrations are looking very strong and we expect a significantly better-attended event than the very decent showing we got in 2007. I daresay my colleagues in the marketing team will be trumpeting all the very positive numbers soon - partly with a view to convincing those of you who have not joined us this year that you'll be missing out on an excellent networking opportunity...

On the second day of the event, we have among our panel of speakers Mr Vahid Sadoughi, the CEO of MCI, the mobile business unit of the national incumbent carrier Telecommunication Company of Iran. Our Global Mobile Daily service reminded me last week that a number of overseas investors are currently eyeing a stake in TCI. Interest seems to be strong in Russia, Turkey, China and Indonesia. It remains to be seen whether Mr Sadoughi will be able to field any questions relating to this in Tuesday's plenary session.

12 Dec 2008

Russian cellco gets to work in Cambodia

Earlier this week, Global Mobile Daily picked up on developments in Cambodia, where Russian cellco Vimpelcom has made progress with setting up its newest foreign operation. Chinese vendor Huawei has picked up the contract to roll out a nationwide GSM900/1800 network for Sotelco, 90% of whose parent company, Atlas Trade was purchased by Vimpelcom in July this year. This stake was bought from Vimpelcom's largest shareholder, Altimo.

Having just completed the speaker line-up and agenda for our Eurasia Com event (March 31 & 1 April 2009, Istanbul), we continue to watch Moscow-based telcos and investors such as Vimpelcom and Altimo, with a view to assembling another compelling set of presenters for the Moscow event whose discussions are more sharply focused on developments in the Russian Federation itself, as well as neighbouring states Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

3 Dec 2008

Lebanese mobile market shake-ups: DT to withdraw?

A helpful colleague here at Informa Telecoms & Media recently forwarded me a story which reports changes on the Lebanese mobile market.
While preparing for our imminent GSM>3G Middle East conference in Dubai, I was surprised to receive news of a speaker cancellation. We had long planned to welcome the Chief Commercial Officer of Lebanese cello Alfa, one of the very first presenters to have confirmed his interest in sharing insights at the event. We have since replaced the planned presentation with one from Saudi Arabia's Mobily, but it's always disappointing to have to cancel a presentation which we have advertised for some time.

I cannot be sure, but we may have to assume that the Alfa cancellation is related to recent news that Lebanon's national unity government is forcing the company to abandon its contract to manage one of the country's two state-owned mobile phone networks, having criticsed its services. Alfa, a joint venture of Deutsche Telekom and Saudi Arabia's Fal Holdings, had to hand over control of the MIC1 network to the Telecommunications Ministry on 1 December, thereby ending its four-year management contract.

"With MIC1, we were not happy with the quality [of service] that we ended up with,"" says Gilbert Najjar, the head of the ministry's advisory board on the two networks.

The Kuwaiti operator Zain, which manages the country's second MIC2 network under its MTC-Touch brand, will also have to hand over its contract, but not until the end of January. Najjar has declined to criticise Zain's management of MIC2, and the Kuwaiti firm is therefore expected to rebid for its contract. Lebanon's telecoms regulator has indicated that Zain needs to reapply because the Council of Ministers (cabinet) is certain to change the terms of the contract.

"This is a legal and administrative issue. They are changing the terms of the contract so they cannot just renew the management contracts,"" says Lelia el-Khazen, a senior market analyst at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

2 Dec 2008

Turkish 3G awards: no surprises

The stalling and wrangling is finally over: the Turkish Government has awarded 3G licenses. The surprises? None.

As confirmed by today's Global Mobile Daily, the three established cellcos, Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea, all bagged licenses, raising between them a total of €822 million (US$1.04 billion) for the state coffers.

Market-leading Turkcell (55.54% of the subscriber base, according to WCIS as of Sep 2008) won the ‘A’ licence with the largest bandwidth block of 40MHz, with a bid of €358 million. Vodafone Turkey (26.56% market share) was awarded a license in the 35MHz spectrum band after paying €250 million, while third-placed operator Avea (17.90% market share) was awarded a 30MHz operating license €214 million. The auction for a fourth bid was cancelled due to a lack of suitable bidders.

The 3G licensing process will not, therefore, introduce any new MNOs onto the Turkish market, as has been the case in one European country. A Romanian 3G licence was awarded to RCS & RDS, a cable MSO and broadband service provider with no previous mobility proposition. Having launched 3G services in December 2007, RCS & RDS has now built a mobile market share of just under 4.5% according to WCIS figures.

If operators do face any new competition for subscribers in the recently-initiated era of MNP in Turkey, this will come in the form of MVNOs, which look set to enter the market at some stage in 2009. Those who track the Turkish market will not be surprised to learn that MNO, MVNE and MVNO strategies are set to be discussed at length at our Istanbul Eurasia Com conference (31 March & 1 April 2009), which will gather delegates from Caspian and Central Asian markets as well as from the host country.

1 Dec 2008

Azeri and Kyrgyz delegations for Eurasia Com strengthened even further!

Preparations for what turned out to be an extremely enjoyable weekend prevented me from blogging immediately about further welcome additions to both the Azeri and Kyrgyz delegations at our Eurasia Com conference (Istanbul, 31 March & 1 April). What I wanted to write on Friday afternoon was:
  • We're delighted to welcome Mr Iltimas Mamedov, the Deputy Minister of Communication and Information Technologies of the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the panel of speakers.
  • We're also pleased that the Kyrgyz contingent has been boosted by the confirmed participation of Mr Vitaliy Uvarov, General Director of Aktel/Fonex, a CDMA2000 operator with approximately 200,000 subscribers.

28 Nov 2008

MNOs aim to retain migrant worker customers via overseas MVNOs

The ever-indispensable Global Mobile Daily reminded me yesterday that Suriname's incumbent telco Telesur (most of whose top management team I've had the pleasure of meeting at previous interactions of our Americas Com event in Rio) has launched a prepaid MVNO in the Netherlands. This is a move to retain the business of around 330,000 ex-pat Surinamese living and working in Holland. The MVNO will work in partnership with retail chains Kruidvat and Trekpleister for distribution of its mobile services. The service will be enabled by MVNE Teleena.

This model is not new - MVNOs aimed at specific ethnic segments or specific groups of migrant workers. Also tried and tested is the idea of the dominant mobile player from one country seeking to monetise its natural ability to market services to fellow countrymen who happen to be located abroad. A case which interests me is that of the German MVNO mobi gsm, an offering of Millenicom, a company owned by European Telecommunication Holding, part of the Çukurova Group, controllers of Turkey's leading MNO Turkcell.

Turkcell, along with competitors Vodafone and Avea, must now decide on how to approach the matter of MVNOs going to market on its home turf. Along with MNP and 3G services finally becoming a reality in 2009, MVNOs are one of the hotter topics of discussionon the Turkish telecoms scene, which is why the subject will get extended coverage at our Eurasia Com conference in Istanbul, 31 March & 1 April. Two companies looking to get involved as MVNEs will be represented on the panel of speakers - handset/SIM retailer Vegatel and the Turkish arm of pan-European MVNE/MVNO Effortel. In the last couple of days I've also heard from Jacques Bonifay, CEO of Transatel, another cross-border MVNO and MVNE. I'm pleased to report that developments in Turkey seem to have picqued Jacques' interest enough to make the trip down to Istanbul and join the discussions.

To ensure that no one present can possibly fail to go away armed with lots of useful insights on MVNO/MVNE and HNO (host network operator) business models, we have arranged for MVNO guru Alex Bessen to offer a compelling, co-located workshop at the event, offering case studies and practical guidance.

27 Nov 2008

Etisalat, Zain presence boosted at GSM>3G Middle East event

With 18 days to go before our annual Middle East region event, we have news of very welcome late additions to the panel of speakers, adding further value to an already strong conference programme.

Zain's presence at the event has been boosted further by confirmation that the CEO of the group's Saudi Arabia operation, Dr Marwan Al-Ahmadi, will be making a presentation to open the second day of the event (16 December). Zain's KSA operation only went live as recently as August 26, joining the group's 'one network' borderless roaming service. Given the newness of this business unit, we expect there to a very strong interest from delegates keen to evaluate the progress made by Dr Marwan's team in the first few months of commercial operation.

Another group involved closely with this year's GSM>3G Middle East conference is Etisalat. The UAE's leading telecoms service provider, and an endorsing sponsor of our event, Etisalat has subsidiaries in markets including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt. Representing the group on the panel of speakers will be Mr Nasser Bin Obood, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer and Mr
Mr Ali Amiri, Executive Vice President Carrier & Wholesale.

I also wanted to point out that our friends at the UMTS Forum and GSA (Global Mobile Suppliers' Association) are jointly hosting a workshop, immediately following the conference on 17 December. The workshop is designed to provide attendees with information and insights on the benefits of deploying WCDMA/HSPA in the 900MHz band, including increased coverage and in-building penetration, as well as lower CapEx and OpEx relative to WCDMA/HSPA deployed at 2100MHz. The workshop will also address the challenges faced by operators in deploying UMTS900, including fragmented spectrum allocations and co-existence with GSM900.
Regulators and senior decision makers involved in the areas of network strategy and deployment, including CTOs, Strategy and Planning Directors, Spectrum Technology Managers, Senior Engineers and Network Architects, as well as Marketing and Product Management personnel, will benefit from attending.

26 Nov 2008

Turkish Government moves to stimulate internet, mobile internet development

Today's Global Mobile Daily has news of a helpful move on the part of the Turkish Government, welcomed by the country's leading cellco Turkcell, controlled by Çukurova Group, a leading business conglomerate with diverse interests in numerous industries.

Turkey's Ministry of Finance has announced a reduction in the Special Communication Tax on mobile internet from 25% to 5% and on fixed internet from 15% to 5%. “We welcome the equalization of mobile and fixed internet taxation. We evaluate this decision of our government as a very positive development for both consumers and the telecommunication
industry.” Turkcell said it welcomed the decision as an “important step a few days ahead of the 3G tender.”

Anything likely to stimulate the telecoms market in Turkey is good news for us as we near the final stages of assembling the speaker panel for our annual Eurasia Com conference in Istanbul. I wonder if any of the CIS nations represented at the event by their telecoms ministers will be inspired by the Turkish example and consider similar measures. To date, we have confirmed ministerial delegates from Armenia and Tajikistan. We are working hard on adding to that list.

25 Nov 2008

Eurasia Com: Azeri and Tajik delegations announced

This morning we have more good news about the size, diversity and seniority of the group set to assemble at our Eurasia Com conference in Istanbul (31 March & 1 April 2009). The already-strong panel of speakers is to be boosted by the presence of the General Directors of two of the Eurasia region's state-owned incumbent wireline carriers.

Tajiktelecom will be represented by Mr Rahmunali Hasanov, joined by his counterpart from AzTelecom, Mr Magomed Mamedov. With the Kyrgyz incumbent operator already represented by its General Director and CTO, and with Türk Telekom CEO Dr. Paul Doany opening the event with a Welcome Keynote Address, Eurasia Com 2009 is shaping up to be the biggest, best event we've ever hosted for telcos in the Central Asia and Caucasus regions.

Yesterday, I was pleased to learn that ECI Telecom, a leading supplier of networking infrastructure for carrier and service provider networks worldwide, had been signed up as a Eurasia Com sponsor. We look forward to introducing the ECI Telecom team on-site to the carrier delegations whose presence we are currently confirming. As a sponsor, ECI Telecom can expect to gain privileged access to new contacts from across this high-growth region. We urge other telecoms tech vendors interested in the region to avail themselves of this opportunity also.

24 Nov 2008

Eurasia Com congress boosted by Ministerial support

Today I was delighted to receive a fax from the Ministry of Transport and Communication of the Republic of Armenia, signed by Mr Vruyr Arakelyan, the Deputy Minister whose responsibilities cover the the telecoms sector. In the message, Mr Arakelyan confirms that he will be joining us at the 5th annual Eurasia Com conference in Istanbul, 31 March & 1 April. Mr Arakelyan will be making a speech on recent developments and investment opportunities in the field of communications in Armenia. This is a welcome boost as we seek to raise further the profile and broaden the audience of this event.

Eurasia Com is quickly evolving beyond its roots as purely a meeting of mobile industry executives from the Caspian and Central Asia regions. Shifting the event from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Istanbul back in 2007 massively increased the size of the audience. Transport links were more favourable and it proved quite straightforward to create a conference of interest to delegates from CIS markets and the new host country.

In 2008, we began to diversify more actively in terms of the kinds of service provider represented, i.e. appealing to wireline carriers, WLL operators etc. in addition to the loyal audience from the mobile space. Now, in time for the 2009 event, we are making great strides in terms of reaching out to government agencies and state-owned carriers from CIS markets. We are more confident than ever that Eurasia Com will be the de facto annual meeting place for anyone looking to do business in this region's telecoms sector. Now is a great time to tap into the potential of these high-growth, under-penetrated markets in a region where many states possess rich natural resources. Opportunities exist for telecoms technology vendors to gain privileged access to the strong list of VIPs we are assembling.

20 Nov 2008

MVNO workshop adds value to Eurasia Com 2009

In previous posts here, I've mentioned the buzz of interest around Turkey's Telecommunications Board paving the way for MVNOs to enter the market. With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that a new feature of the 5th annual Eurasia Com conference (Istanbul, 31 March & 1 April 2009) will be a co-located workshop on the theme of exploiting opportunities created by this move by the regulator. The workshop will be led by Alex Bessen of the Bessen Group, a US-headquartered international management consulting practice to the mobile data industry.

Alex will be drawing on his company's MVNO Service Portfolio, MVNE Service Portfolio and HNO Service Portfolio so the workshop will be of interest to executives from all of these value chain actors.

While speaking with contacts in Turkey, I've heard expressed several times the opinion that regulators in nearby markets (i.e. CIS markets in the Caucasus region, such as Azerbaijan and Armenia) will probably watch developments in Turkey with interest ahead of making their own decisions about whether there is a case for licensing MVNOs. Given that our conference attracts delegates from these markets and from other former-Soviet states in Central Asia, as well as a good showing from Turkey, I am confident Alex will be sharing insights with a diverse group of workshop participants.

19 Nov 2008

Eurasia Com boosted by confirmation of Turk Telekom CEO

I am delighted to announce that the profile of next year's 5th annual Eurasia Com conference in Istanbul (31 March & 1 April 2009) will be boosted significantly by the presence of Dr. Paul Doany, which was confirmed this morning.
Dr. Doany is the CEO of both Türk Telekom and Oger Telecom, an emerging markets telecommunications group controlled by the Saudi Oger Group, one of the Middle-East's most prominent multi-sector organisations. Dr. Doany will be welcoming international visitors to the conference with a Keynote Address on the morning of 31 March, and has been invited to use this speaking opportunity to outline his vision for the development of world-class services in Turkey and in developing markets elsewhere. Eurasia Com attracts delegates from the telecoms businesses of Turkey and the former Soviet Republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The event therefore offers a highly convenient one-stop shop for anyone looking to do business with the operators and service providers of this fast-developing region.

Türk Telekom, Turkey's incumbent fixed-line operator, owns a majority stake in MNO Avea, which continues to lag behind rivals Turkcell and Vodafone in terms of market share. I've commented this week on speculation around how the recent implementation of MNP in Turkey will affect how the mobile market is divided up and I daresay that Eurasia Com 2009 will be taking place against a background of ongoing battles for high-value subscribers.

17 Nov 2008

Turkey's MNP adventure gets underway

Our Global Mobile Daily service last week told me that there had been around 50,000 porting requests in Turkey on the first day of MNP being available in the country. The story went on to say "it is thought that up to seven million porting requests could eventually be made by subscribers of the country’s three networks, Turkcell, Vodafone Turkey, and Avea."

Working to create the next iteration of our annual Istanbul Eurasia Com conference and exhibition has led me to watch the Turkish market a little more closely of late than I get the chance to do throughout the rest of the year. I daresay anyone asking about burning issues for Turkish cellco execs would get the same sorts of answers I've been hearing. 3G licensing, MVNOs and MNP are the three hottest topics. With this in mind, as well as making the usual calls, I tried using our Eurasia Com LinkedIn group to get a sense of who is set to gain from these developments. When asking which operator is set to gain most from the implementation of MNP, I've received a pretty mixed bag of responses. One school of thought seems to be that MNP will work well for third-placed Avea, which is owned by incumbent carrier Turk Telekom, the theory being that they will win market share by competing aggressively on price. Others feel that Turkcell, having made more progress with getting ready to launch 3G services, will gain by finding it easier to nab subscribers from rival networks less able to offer attractive services. I won't pretend to know enough to take a view one way or the other.

In other Eurasia Com-related news, I am pleased to announce our partnership with the organisers of Mobile Monday Istanbul. We are proud to be hosting the April 2009 meeting, which will immediately follow the day two conference sessions at Eurasia Com. Also, I gladly accepted the organisers' kind invitation to attend the January meeting and offer an overview of the Informa Telecoms & Media take on mobile social networking.

14 Nov 2008

Dual-mode WiMAX/GSM device hits Russian market

Earlier this year WiMAX watchers Maravedis were talking up Russia as one of the world's top WiMAX/BWA markets. Some weight was added to this arguments when we hosted a, WiMAX Forum-endorsed and well-attended Russia/CIS conference in Moscow last month. Further evidence of Russia being a key market for WiMAX equipment and device vendors was reported yesterday by telecoms.com, who noted that Taiwanese PDA and handset maker HTC has officially unveiled a dual-mode mobile WiMAX/GSM handset to add to its 'Touch' range of devices using Windows Mobile OS. The first to get their hands on the HTC Max 4G, which is being heralded by its makers as the world's first commercially available device of this type, will customers of Russia's Scartel.

Scartel, currently building out a mobile WiMAX network in Moscow and St. Petersburg and offering services under the 'Yota' brand name, will offer the HTC device to subscribers from November 26th.

According to the telecoms.com piece, for voice, Scartel HTC MAX 4G users "will be able to make and receive GSM calls with any Russian mobile phone network operator; when both callers are Yota subscribers, calls will be routed as VoIP on the Scartel's mobile WiMAX network."

We hope that Scartel and HTC will both be represented at our 7th annual Russia & CIS Com conference (formerly GSM>3G Russia) in Moscow next June when, once again, we will be gathering high level executives from telecoms businesses mainly in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. For companies looking for good business development opportunities in the CIS, this event offers a very convenient one-stop shop for meeting operators of every type and size - fixed, mobile, integrated, cable MSOs and more. An earlier opportunity, relating more specifically to meeting prospects from the CIS markets of the Caucasus region and Central Asia (i.e. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) is our Eurasia Com conference. The next of these will be 31st March and 1st April 2009 in Istanbul. Companies which have already confirmed their high-level participation include: MTS, MegaFon, Kyrgyztelecom, Bakcell, AzEurotel and Megacom.

13 Nov 2008

GSM>3G Middle East speaker: we're on target to double our subscriber base

One of the confirmed speakers for our annual GSM>3G Middle East conference (15-16 December, Dubai) has recently made a very positive prediction regarding his company's growth.

Iraq's Asiacell has indicated that it is on target to double its subscriber base within a 12 month period. CEO Dr Diar Ahmad, who will be joining the panel of speakers at our Dubai conference, said in a recent interview that the customer base has now passed the six million mark.

“By the end of the year we expect to have 6.3 million subscribers,” he told an ITP publication, adding “We have had 90% growth on customer numbers. It is a very aggressive growth - more than we planned for.”

10 Nov 2008

Kyrgyz incumbent carrier: CEO-level support for Eurasia Com conference

Our 5th annual Eurasia Com conference (31 March & 1 April 2009, Istanbul) received a huge boost this morning. While we have done well in terms of attracting speakers and delegates from the mobile operators of the South Caucasus and Central Asia regions, it has frankly been rather more difficult to engage with the mainly state-owned incumbent carriers from that part of the world. Doing this more effectively is an ambition I've held for a couple of years now. I am convinced that many of our customers (telecoms tech vendors looking to access emerging markets regions worldwide) also find their business development in the CIS to be above-averagely challenging. My vision for this event, therefore, has been to gather every kind of telecoms operator from the region under one roof for a two-day one-stop-shop for our sponsors. The CIS markets' incumbent wireline carriers have been the one missing piece from this jigsaw.

That changed today with the confirmation of Mr Marat Mambetaliev, General Director of KYRGYZTELECOM as a member of the panel of speakers. We will now work to leverage this confirmation to encourage the participation of Mr Mambetaliev's counterparts from other countries in the region.

6 Nov 2008

Turkcell boosted by net adds in 3Q08

The ever-essential Global Mobile Daily just popped up in my inbox, pointing out encouraging numbers for one of the companies that we always like to involve in our annual Eurasia Com conference in Istanbul.

Turkcell has reported a subscription base of 36.3 million, up 4.3% from 34.8 million for the same
period a year earlier. Of these postpaid subscriptions increased 14.3% to 7.2 million in 3Q08 up from 6.9 million in 3Q07, while prepaid subscriptions increased to 29.1 million in 3Q08 up 2.1% from the same period a year earlier. ARPU increased to US$17.3 from US$15.3 for the same period a year earlier, of which US$11.2 was prepaid, up 12% from US$10.0 at end-3Q07, while postpaid came in at US$41.9, up 6.1% from US$39.5 at end-3Q07, while churn increased to 6.2% up from 5.7% at end-3Q07.

The operator had total revenues of US$2.48 billion at end-3Q08 up from US$2.18 billion
at end-3Q07.

Already represented by the Deputy GM of its Northern Cyprus subsidiary, we expect the Turkcell presence to be strong once again at the next Eurasia Com, which we will be hosting March 31 and April 1 at Istanbul's Movenpick Hotel.

5 Nov 2008

Mobinil to speak at GSM>3G Middle East; Zain presence increased

I are pleased to announce two very welcome additions to the panel of speakers at GSM>3G Middle East, taking place December 15-16 in Dubai. Khaled Khorshid is Regional COO at Zain Sudan. Operators in Sudan face challenging market conditions, as evidenced by the fact that mobile penetration in the country, has not yet reached the 25% mark. Low GDP per capita is a major growth inhibitor, both in terms of overall market size and in terms of ARPU. Khaled Khorshid's presentation will focus on how to address these challenges and boost ARPU and MoU.

Also joining the panel will be Guillaume van Gaver, VP Commercial at Mobinil of Egypt. Mr van Gaver will be speaking on the theme of boosting consumer acceptance of mobile value-added services.

Delegate and exhibition visitor bookings are tracking well ahead of last year's numbers, so we are looking forward to a great show.

29 Oct 2008

Eurasia Com: 2 out of 3 giant Russian cellcos say 'yes'

Following hot on the heels of our recent announcement about Russian cellco MegaFon sending its Deputy CEO to our 2009 Eurasia Com conference in Istanbul comes news of another important speaker confirmation.

Joining MegaFon's Alexey Nichiporenko in a Keynote Session Roundtable Discussion will be Oleg Raspopov, VP and Director of the Foreign Subsidiaries Business Unit at market-leading MTS (MobileTeleSystems). We expect the discussion to be a robust forum for the exchange of views about how best to exploit the remaining telecoms sector growth opportunities across the CIS markets of Central Asia and the Caspian region.

In the region we have defined as the target market for delegates for this particular conference, MTS has a presence in Armenia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. MTS has furher CIS subsidiaries in Ukraine and Belarus.

Of Russia's 'big three' mobile players, only Vimpelcom has yet to confirm that a participant will take part in this discussion, which will take place on the morning of Tuesday 31 March, day one of the two-day Eurasia Com conference and exhibition. Naturally, we are in discussions with Vimpelcom about this and I remain confident about a positive outcome.

I will consider this Roundtable line-up to be perfectly formed if we are also able to add a high-level participant from TeliaSonera's Eurasia business unit. I will keep you posted.

28 Oct 2008

MegaFon, Kuzey Kibris Turkcell join speaker line-up for Eurasia Com 2009

I am pleased to announce the confirmation of two very strong additional speakers for Eurasia Com 2009 (Istanbul, 31 March & 1 April 2009), both representing influential cellcos in the region served by the conference.

Mr Alexey Nichiporenko is First Deputy CEO at Russia's MegaFon, and General Director, of MegaFon-International, the unit which manages the Russian MNO's subsidiaries beyond the Russian Federation. Mr Nichiporenko will be joining a day one round table discussion (on Tuesday 31 March), during which participants will be invited to comment on the Eurasia region's most promising remaining growth opportunities and the challenges operators can expect to face when working to exploit them.

Turkcell is also a significant player in the region, not least in the host country of our conference, where the cellco is the mobile market leader. For the past two years, Turkcell have strongly supported our event, sending large delegations of executives to enjoy the networking, discussions and presentations, as well as confirming CxO-level speakers from the company. We are in discussions with our friends at Turkcell now about who will represent the business at the lectern in 2009. In the meantime, a Turkcell subsidiary company has already confirmed its high-level participation.

Kuzey Kibris Turkcell operates in the Turkish Republic Northern Cyprus, where the company has recently rolled out 3.5G services over an Ericsson-supplied W-CDMA/HSPA network. The three MNOs in Turkey itself have yet to go to market with 3G services and of the Caspian and Central Asian countries from where we will be gathering delegates, only Tajikistan and Georgia have W-CDMA networks. We therefore expect there to be a strong interest in the detailed network/services-deployment case study that will be offered at the conference by KK Turkcell. The speaker will be Mr Burak Merzeci, the company's CMO.

We are having many positive conversations with invited participants and we confidently expect to assemble our strongest-ever speaker line-up for the event in 2009.

27 Oct 2008

Positive numbers from LatAm iDEN group

In a recent post on the prospects for MVNOs in Latin America, I mentioned in passing NII Holdings, ­whose Nextel-branded operations offer mobile services over iDEN networks in Chile, Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Brazil. I found myself reminiscing about trips to the last two of these countries and observing almost every cab driver I'd encountered using the Push-t0-Talk functionality of their Nextel handsets.

Last week, I was joined here in London by a colleague from our sister company in Sao Paolo, whose team will be more closely involved than in previous years in the research leading to the creation of the conference agenda for our annual Americas Com event in Rio de Janeiro. My Brazilian colleague told me about friends with small businesses, all of whose staff stay in touch via the Nextel PoC (Push-to-Talk over Cellular) service. Her impression, based just on this anecdotal evidence, was of good growth for the iDEN network operator.

I was therefore not too surprised to see pick up on very positive noises coming out of NII Holdings HQ, picked up late last week by a Cellular News story, according to which the company "has reported that for the third quarter, the Company added 394,500 net subscribers, matching the company's quarterly record of net subscriber additions set in the second quarter of 2008, resulting in an ending subscriber base of over 5.8 million subscribers, a 33% increase over the subscriber base reported at the end of the third quarter of 2007."

We usually see a smattering of delegates from the various Nextel operators at Americas Com. At the most recent event, I ran into some folks from the Peruvian operation. We will certainly be inviting the company to share some useful insights at the 2009 conference.

24 Oct 2008

Bakcell CEO confirms company's involvement in Eurasia Com conference

I am pleased to announce here that Martin Quirke, the British CEO of Azeri GSM operator Bakcell has confirmed his intention to join the panel of speakers at our 5th annual Eurasia Com conference in Istanbul, 31 March & 1 April 2009. Martin and I are discussing how best he can contribute and Martin is considering possible presentation topics. Whatever his choice, I'm sure Martin will offer some useful insights for our delegates from the telecoms service providers of Turkey, the Caspian region and Central Asia.

Now that I am back on the subject of Eurasia Com and the region it serves, this is a good opportunity to attempt to clarify something I was musing about last week. I found myself wondering aloud here about the ownership of Kyrgyz MNO Megacom, which some have suggested is owned by Russian cellco MegaFon. This week, we were told directly by a contact at Megacom that the company is emphatically NOT owned by MegaFon, but that " [we] have... a partnership with Megafon in terms of technical support and roaming."

16 Oct 2008

Prospects for MVNOs in Latin American markets

A Cellular News story this week focused on the prospect of more competitive market conditions in Peru. Proinversión, the country's agency for private investment promotion is apparently planning to auction spectrum for the cities of Lima and Callao and make further spectrum available nationwide. As far as I can make out, this will open the way for a third GSM mobile operator. Currently, Peruvians are offered a choice between Claro (backed by Mexico's America Movil) and Movistar Peru, part of Telefonica's extensive Latin America footprint. These two operators currently have 39.22% and 57.31% of the country's mobile subscriptions, according to the Informa Telecoms & Media WCIS database. The remaining 3.47% are owned by Nextel Peru, an iDEN operator owned by NII Holdings of the USA. Whenever I visit Argentina or Brazil, I can't help noticing that almost every taxi I take is driven by a subscriber of the local Nextel-branded operator. The drivers routinely use the Push-to-talk over Cellular functionality of their handsets to keep in touch with their colleagues. It is my understanding that the various Nextel iDEN operators around Latin America focus their efforts on this and other business applications rather than attempting to compete aggressively for consumer business. I daresay, therefore, that in the Peruvian market, the local Nextel operator would be least seriously affected by the entry of a new GSM player.

While calling contacts around Central Asia and the Caspian region this week (in preparation for our Eurasia Com conference), we have been asking for views on how much more the various markets are likely to become. We keep hearing opinions about the 'optimum' number of mobile operators for any given market. I wonder, therefore, if a third GSM operator in Peru would take the number of competitors up to or beyond the 'optimum' level. I suppose it depends on who you ask.

One opinion, reported in the Cellular News piece, comes from José F. Otero, President of Signals Telecom Consulting and the author of a report on the Peruvian market. Otero notes that "any new mobile operator making its entrance into the Peruvian market will be faced with a variety of difficulties. The most important among these are an estimated 70% mobile telephony penetration rate (by the end of 2008) and the low level of personal income of a large part of the local population. First of all, a potential new operator not only would have to compete against well known brand names like Claro, Movistar and Nextel. It would also have to deploy a network in a rural areas having irregular topography that would increase infrastructure costs in regions having very low levels of disposable income. This means it would take longer to achieve a positive return on the investments made.”

In the article, there is speculation about "a new competitor like the Brazilian operator Oi" potentally looking at entering the Peruvian mobile marketplace via "an MVNO type plan"

When studying the markets across Latin America and attempting to keep track of all the various service providers, the absence of MVNOs has stood out for me. At our recent Americas Com conference in Rio de Janeiro, I heard conflicting view about when/if MVNOs would enter the Brazilian market. Some delegates seemed to feel that the country's regulator, ANATEL, was some way from enabling prospective virtual service providers to compete for business with Brazil's MNOs. However, one high-level executive from one of the operators told me he felt that MVNOs would be making their market debut in Brazil "quite soon."

A spot of Googling this morning revealed that Sixbell Nekotec Solutions, a "a leading Latin American corporation developing value added software and service systems and system integration" has ambitions around entering the Brazilian market as an MVNO targetting low income subscribers.

In the context of this uncertainty in, I was interested to see someone from Claro Brasil (America Movil) asking about the impact of MVNOs on Latin American markets to members of the Americas Com LinkedIn group. The most interesting answer so far comes from a Regulatory Policy official at the Mexican regulator COFETEL, who writes: "There is no specific ruling and/or regulation in Mexico for MVNOs. As a matter of fact, if you are already a carrier that has a license to offer services, you only need a confirmation from the authority to resale unused capacity of other carriers, as reselling for licensees is permitted by the Law. In the case of Maxcom (which is a licensed carrier) they resale unused capacity of Telefonica Movistar. In the case of parties wanting to resale services and that do not have a license, they need to follow a procedure to obtain a permit for reselling. There is a specific ruling for ILD resellers issued in 2004, but the current policy in Cofetel is that permits for any service will be granted if the applicants comply with the law and specific regulations."

My sense is that at the next Americas Com conference (Rio de Janeiro, May 2009), more time will be spent discussing MVNOs - both on stage and offline in the networking sessions. We are feeling bullish here about the prospects for a strong event, having strengthened the team working on the research and speaker acquisition parts of the project. Much of that activity will now be run from our sister company in Sao Paolo. I will be welcoming their team leader here in London next week and ensuring that our Brazilian colleagues have everything they need to make Americas Com the must-attend discussion and networking forum for telco execs from all over Latin America in 2009 and beyond.