Leading Colombian mobile operator Comcel has contracted Nokia to upgrade and extend its GSM network as part of a USD250 million expansion plan to reach 185 municipalities by the end of the year. The deal is worth USD90 million and deliveries of GSM, GPRS and EDGE switching and radio network infrastructure are already underway. Comcel is intent on claiming the title of the country’s first truly national operator, in a bid to stay ahead of its competitors BellSouth Colombia (soon to be rebranded as Telefónica Movistar following its recent purchase by Spain’s Telefónica Móviles) and newcomer Colombia Móvil, launched last November.
Comcel currently operates both TDMA and GSM networks covering more than 75% of Colombia’s population via three subsidiaries – Comcel, Occidente Celular (Occel) and Caribe Celular (Celcaribe) – all of which operate under the Comcel brand. Comcel provides A-band services to the eastern region of Colombia while its subsidiary Occel operates in the west. In December 2002 Comcel’s parent company América Móvil acquired its smaller rival Celcaribe – then majority-owned by Millicom International Cellular (MIC) – which was operating in Comcel’s ‘blind spot’ of the Caribbean coast. The purchase was completed in February 2003 and América Móvil had invested around USD30 million in its new cellco by the end of the year: USD12 million on strengthening its TDMA platform and USD18 million for additional GSM equipment.
Comcel offers both post- and pre-paid services, the latter under the ‘Amigo’ banner, but its portfolio of services are mostly quite basic, regardless of the 2.5G capabilities of its enhanced network. The operator is keen to ramp up its value added services and is also making significant investments in its customer services after faring badly in recent satisfaction survey produced by the country’s regulator. Alongside this, Comcel is keen to acquire extra spectrum to further extend its reach and quality of services, and it hopes to expand its frequency by winning the next round of licence auctions. The cellco is also looking to boost business by seeking synergies with fixed line operator Telmex Colombia, now owned by América Móvil’s wireline sister Telmex.