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PTC looking to steal a march on its rivals in the race to launch UMTS

26 Jan 2004

Poland’s leading mobile operator Polska Telefonia Cyfrowa (PTC) has contracted German equipment manufacturer Siemens to supply it with a next-generation UMTS network covering the main Polish cities. The two-year contract will be carried out by Siemen’s Information and Communications Mobile Group at an estimated cost of PLN600 million. Backed by T-Mobile International, PTC is aiming to be the first of Poland’s three mobile operators to introduce its commercial UMTS offering at the start of 2006. Although it has yet to reveal its full schedule and time frame for rollout, it has said initial efforts will be concentrated on Warsaw and its environs, where the majority of its customers reside.

In June 2002 PTC undertook a number of small scale trials of high speed voice, data and video communications services over an UMTS network offering data transfer rates of up to 384kbps. The venture saw the installation of a UMTS radio access core network, and internet applications operating via node B base stations supplied by Alcatel. Later the same year PTC became the first operator in Poland to commercially launch i-mode services under licence from Japan’s dominant cellco, NTT DoCoMo. The service, called Era Omnix, gives subscribers access to information, games and entertainment, as well as enabling them to send MMS and e-mails via high speed GPRS-based technology. The company has nationwide GPRS coverage and hopes to attract 300,000 new customers by the end of 2004.

The development of commercial UMTS services by Poland’s three operators has been dogged by technical and economic problems. In September 2003 the regulator delayed the UMTS launch date by one year to 1 January 2006. The date for achieving a minimum 20% population coverage was moved from end-2005 to end-2007, whilst the 40% coverage requirement was removed altogether. A tender for a fourth UMTS licence has now been abandoned due to lack of interest.

PTC was formed in December 1995 and launched its GSM-900 service on receipt of its licence in September 1996. Offering services such as Era Tak Tak (pre-paid) and Era Moja (retail) under the brandname Era-GSM, the company was EBITDA positive within eight months of commercial operation. In 1999 PTC was awarded a 15-year non-exclusive DCS-1800 licence, and by March 2003 its network covered 96.1% of Poland’s territory and 99.55% of the population. By September 2003 PTC had a customer base to 5.8 million, equating to a market share of 35.71%. At the same date its two rivals, Centertel (owned by France Télécom and Poland’s main fixed line operator Telekomunikacje Polska) and Polkomtel (in which Vodafone has a sizeable stake) claimed 5.35 million and 5.09 million subscribers respectively.

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