YOU ARE AT:Archived ArticlesDIGIFONE INTENDS TO ADD 50K CUSTOMERS THIS YEAR

DIGIFONE INTENDS TO ADD 50K CUSTOMERS THIS YEAR

Ireland’s second mobile phone operator has launched service with two compact packages and a goal of acquiring 50,000 customers by the end of the year.

Dublin-based Esat Digifone had hoped to be online by the end of 1996 with its Global System for Mobile communications cellular system. Esat is offering two service packages, the Digimax for medium to heavy users, and the Digilite, for off-peak or evening users.

Award of the 15-year license to Esat in late 1995 irked several American businesses, including Motorola Inc., AT&T Wireless Services Inc. and SBC Communications Inc.

Ireland is a member of the European Union, and is required to deregulate its telecommunications businesses by 2000. And since competitive deregulation was the goal, the license selection should have gone to a candidate with greater cellular expertise and without government connections, the losers argued.

Esat Digifone is owned 40 percent by the long-distance firm Esat Telecom and 40 percent by government operator Telenor of Norway, with the rest held by private investors. Telenor has the wireless experience; it operates a cellular system in Norway as Telenor Mobil AS.

Ireland’s first cellular operator, Telecom Eireann, is operated by Ireland’s state-controlled telephone company.

The cellular penetration rate in Ireland is about 8 percent. Esat has said it expects that rate will rise to 20 percent in the next five years, and it hopes to soon gain 50 percent of the Irish market.

Telecom Eireann, which offers service as Eircell, has nearly 280,000 subscribers. Ireland’s population is about 3.5 million.

Although the government has expressed an interest in offering a third license by the end of this year, industry sources in Ireland said they aren’t sure the country has the population density to support a third operator in the near future.

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