AT&T, China Mobile, Telenor linked with seventh Romanian mobile licence

1 Mar 2012

According to an unconfirmed report by Romanian website ProTV News, a number of international telecoms players have expressed an interest in acquiring cellular frequencies from market regulator ANCOM, with a view to entering the already-crowded wireless market. Companies linked with an approach include US-based AT&T Inc, China Mobile, Norwegian giant Telenor and an additional company known as the M3 Group; TeleGeography was unable to establish the credentials of the last-named company, suggesting it may possibly be related to either Hong Kong’s Hutchison (which operates under the ‘3’ brand) or Singapore’s M1 Limited. Marius Fecioru, secretary of state for communications, told ProTV News: ‘The state wants to increase competition as the market’s big players are used to each other. Bringing in a new operator would result in lower costs [for subscribers] and higher revenues from state frequency licences. China Mobile, AT&T, M3 Group and Telenor have [expressed] an interest to enter the market in Romania’.

The Romanian telecoms sector is bracing itself for a flurry of activity this year; as announced last year, ANCOM intends to initiate a tender for four Long Term Evolution (LTE) licences in the second half of 2012, with spectrum in the 790MHz-862MHz and 2500MHz-2690MHz frequency bands set to go under the hammer. In addition, earlier this month ANCOM outlined a set of draft guidelines for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to enter the domestic market, indicating that it hopes that the advent of MVNOs will lead to ‘increased efficiency in the use of the existing mobile communications infrastructure and increased competition in the mobile communications market’. The draft guidelines reportedly allow for telecoms operators that are unsuccessful in buying LTE frequencies to negotiate deals with the winning bidders and enter the local market as MVNOs. Previously, ANCOM, citing the 15th annual report by the European Commission (EC), suggested that of all current EU member states, only Romania and the Czech Republic do not currently allow MVNOs to operate in their respective wireless markets.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the Romanian wireless market is currently home to six operators; subsidiaries of large international mobile groups Orange Romania, Vodafone Romania and OTE-backed Cosmote Romania, alongside local companies RomTelecom, Romania Cable Systems (RCS&RDS) and Telemobil (Zapp), although the last named was acquired by Cosmote in late-2009. However, in spite of interest from abroad the cellular sector arguably reached saturation point some time ago, with the market contracting in both 2010 (-0.4%) and 2011 (-5.5%); at end-December 2011 the wireless population penetration rate stood at 129.2%.