April 18, 2008, Fri 10:44 AM Telecom
MTS has become the first private internet provider in Turkmenistan. The Russian mobile operator intends to provide the internet through GPRS and WiMAX, at the same time MTS has to comply with the strict local rules of internet traffic monitoring.
MTS has launched GPRS/EDGE internet into commercial exploitation in Turkmenistan, says Dmitry Shukov, director of the Turkmen subsidiary. Currently, GPRS is available only to Turkmen entities (the subscriber base amounts to 300, including the embassies of Russia, Germany, Gazprom and Kamaz subsidiaries, etc.), but in May individuals with be provided with the internet access. Furthermore, MTS has applied for frequencies to develop WiMAX (interestingly, in Russia MTS is not providing WiMAX services).
The importance of the given step relates to the fact that the internet is practically not developed in the Republic of Turkmenistan. In 2000 the authorities suspended all private providers, so that the state company Turkmentelecom has become the only internet provider. It provides dial-up and leased line internet under the trademark Turkmenistan Online. However, the procedure of handling requests for connection is too complicated. Consequently, as of 2004 there were only 1 thousand internet users (mainly state agencies and officials) in the republic with 6.7 mln population, as compared to 2002 the number of users decreased twofold. Those who live in the areas neighboring to Uzbekistan buy Uzbek sim cards to use GPRS. However, the law enforcement bodies are trying to confiscate foreign sim cards.
The situation started changing late in 2006 after the death of one of the most totalitarian dictators Turkmenian President Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmen-Bashi). His successor Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has made internet accessibility one of the mottos of his election campaign. The first internet cafés were opened in the republic last year. While recently Mr. Berdymukhammedov has demanded to connect all schools and children gardens to the internet. Leonid Melamed, head of MTS, has met with Mr. Berdymukhammedov promising ‘to render any assistance in providing Turkmen citizens with wireless internet access’.
Meanwhile, the possibilities of those few who have the access to the internet in Turkmenistan are severely restricted. The authorities have blocked the access to most internet resources, while according to Turkmenistan Online regulations, a user might be deprived of the intern access for a range of reasons including the usage of foul language in chats and conferences. MTS press service explains, the company’s specialists together with the republican law enforcement bodies have come to a mutual agreement regarding connection of the republican citizens to the internet. The details are not announced. According to a CNews’ source in Turkmenistan, the issue is first of all of tracking GPRS users’ activity.
According to Artem Minaev, Vimpelcom’s PR manager, mobile internet services are meanwhile not in demand in the Central Asian Republics. ‘But if a proper marketing campaign is held, GPRS prospects in the mentioned markets are enormous, as mobile communication is practically the only means of internet access, in particular, in the highlands’, - says Mr. Minaev. However, although mobile communication is more available than the internet in Turmenistan, the number of citizens using mobile communication is not high: late in 2006 the level of mobile communication penetration reached 3.2%. MTS is servicing 180 thousand (85% of the total number) Turkmen subscribers.
MTS (Mobile TeleSystems) is the largest mobile phone operator in Russia and the CIS. Together with its subsidiaries, the Company services over 72.86 million subscribers. The regions of Russia, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, in which MTS and its associates and subsidiaries are licensed to provide GSM services, have a total population of more than 230 million. MTS completed its IPO and listed its Level III ADRs on the New York Stock Exchange in July 2000, under the symbol MBT. The Company’s shares have been listed locally on MICEX since November 2003, under the symbol MTSI. The Company’s GDRs are also traded in Europe. The free float of the Company’s shares is approximately 46.7%. MTS is 52.8% majority-owned by Sistema, the largest private sector consumer services company in Russia and the CIS. The company’s consolidated revenues in the first quarter of 2007 reached $1,741mln.