According to a report by Reuters, Telekom Austria is in talks about a possible entry into the Belarusian mobile market, as part of its expansion strategy in central and eastern Europe. In a statement, the telco did not disclose potential acquisition targets or other details, but assured shareholders that it would continue to follow a disciplined approach to foreign investment to achieve profitable growth. Austrian newswire APA reported on Friday that Telekom was lining up a EUR1.6 billion (USD2.2 billion) purchase of a cellco in Belarus, and the firm’s CEO, Boris Nemsic, told Reuters last month that he had EUR2.65 billion to spend on a central or eastern European asset, but did not mention Belarus, instead identifying Bosnia as a likely target.
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database notes that there are four players in Belarus’s cellular market, CDMA operator BelCel, and three GSM network operators: MDC (Velcom), MTS Belarus and the most recent entrant Belarusian Network of Telecommunications (BeST). Up until recently all four operators were controlled to a greater or lesser extent by the government, but Cypriot-based SB Telecom reportedly acquired 100% control of Velcom on 22 August 2007. Under its telecoms development programme for 2006-2010, the government is keen to auction 3G licences, but has not yet issued an official timetable for doing so. According to local reports, it is expected to announce its plans for the allocation of 3G frequencies soon. Velcom launched a pilot W-CDMA network in Mogilev in May.