Sonera and Telia show interest in Belarussia

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HELSINKI, Finland—Nordic telecom companies Sonera and Telia have met, in separate talks, with representatives of the government of Belarussia to discuss a possible participation in applying for the former Soviet-bloc country’s second GSM network.

Sonera’s and Telia’s interest in the second Belarussian license is strategic and in line with their respective mobile network growth expectations in the Baltics and Central Europe during the next five years.

In April, Belarussia’s President Alexander Lukashenko “instructed” the Department of Communications (DoC) to prepare to license a second GSM network. The instruction came with the attachment that any further delay on the part of the DoC could result in the president asking for resignations within the DoC, including that of the communications minister.

Belarussia has just one GSM network, Velcom. There has been a public outcry from consumer and commercial groups that tariffs and products offered by Velcom are excessively priced. A basic GSM mobile phone in Belarussia costs US$200, in a country where the monthly salary is not more than US$70.

Velcom is 51-percent owned by the state-controlled landline monopoly, Beltelecom, and 49 percent by the Swiss group SB Telecom.

In January, President Lukashenko commissioned a special report on the second GSM network licensing issue, which found, unsurprisingly, that a second operator would generate more competition on the market and cause tariffs and handset prices to fall.

“They have set such high prices for mobile communications that even rich people do not want to purchase handsets,” Lukashenko told the Belarussian parliament during an address on 28 April.

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