19 Sep 2008

3G coverage widens across former Soviet Union

Telecoms.com reported yesterday that one of Russia's big three cellcos has stolen a march on its competitors in terms of extending 3G coverage to part of Siberia and the far east of the Russian Federation. The MTS W-CDMA footprint now reaches the cities of Novosibirsk, Norilsk and Vladivostok with HSPA-enabled services.

As we prepare for the two Com World Series conferences which gather telco execs from CIS markets, I shall be asking whether discussions around extending 3.5G to these markets' outlying regions remains a hot enough topic to warrant significant talking time. The first of these will be our annual Eurasia Com event in Istanbul (next: March 2009), where delegates from the host country's telecoms operators are joined by colleagues from the Caspian Sea region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia) and the five other former Soviet Republics of Central Asia - the markets I've taken to calling the 'the Stans' for short: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan etc.

MTS also has 3G deployment plans in that part of the world. The company holds 3G licenses in Uzbekistan and Armenia, where I believe the networks are scheduled for launch in 2009. As far as I know, that would put MTS first-to-market with 3G services in both countries.

However, W-CDMA networks have been live for some time in other parts of the region. I've twice had the pleasure of meeting David Lee, the British CEO of Metromedia-owned Magticom, one of Georgia's three MNOs. David has been kind enough to participate at both Eurasia Com and the Moscow-hosted Russia & CIS Com. Magticom was a 3G early mover, starting work on its W-CDMA network in 2005. At both conferences, David shared some useful insights his team has picked up along the way. By December 2006, our WCIS database was indicating that Magitcom's Turkcell/TeliaSonera-backed rival Geocell had its first few 3G subscriptions.

Tajikistan was also an (unlikely-seeming?) 3G pace-setter, with Babilon Mobile going first-to-market in 2005.

As preparations get underway for Eurasia Com 2009, I look forward to reacquainting myself with all these developments in the coming weeks. It's a fascinating region.