According to a CNN report, Russian telecoms holding group Altimo intends to use its recent Cambodian acquisition Sotelco as a bargaining chip in its negotiations to enter the Vietnamese cellular market, rather than sell it to its Russian cellular subsidiary Vimpelcom. Altimo, part of the Alfa Group, purchased 90% of Sotelco, which holds GSM900/1800 and WiMAX licences in Cambodia, in August this year. Very little is known about Sotelco, and it is not though to be operational. Altimo originally planned to sell Sotelco to Vimpelcom, which operates in several Asian countries under the Beeline brand, for the Russian cellco to develop.
However, Altimo has been planning to break into the fast-growing Vietnamese market for around a year and intends to participate in the forthcoming privatisation of cellco Viettel. One condition of Altimo buying into Viettel is reported to be that Altimo assists Viettel in its assault on the Cambodian market, where it holds a GSM licence. Vietnam is rather more attractive than Cambodia in terms of mobile market potential; while mobile penetration at the end of 2006 was 22.7% in Vietnam compared to 11% in Cambodia, Vietnam’s population of 84 million is around six times that of Cambodia, and its mobile sector is one of the fastest growing in the world. Neither Altimo nor Vimpelcom have commented on their plans regarding either Vietnam or Cambodia.