Vimpelcom, Russia’s third largest mobile operator by subscribers, has confirmed that it has finally achieved full coverage of all of the regions in the Far East Federal District with its GSM network. The news was confirmed by Vladimir Kopyl, director of the company’s Far Eastern branch, at a press conference on Wednesday. Kopyl indicated that Vimpelcom launched commercial GSM operations in the Primorsky Krai region on Wednesday, complementing previous rollouts in the Sakha Republic, the Jewish Autonomous District, the Chukotka Autonomous District and the Magadan Oblast, earlier this year. Somewhat uniquely, due to a perceived scarcity of GSM spectrum in the Far East, Vimpelcom was forced to roll out a 3G UMTS network in these five federal districts back in 2008 as a stop-gap measure. Subsequently, in April 2011 the firm was awarded a mixture of 900MHz and 1800MHz GSM spectrum licences by Roskomnadzor, during the regulator’s month-long spectrum auction. The launch could boost Vimpelcom’s Far East subscriber base significantly; at present only around 20% of its subscribers in the region own 3G-suitable handsets. Kopyl concluded by saying that Vimpelcom’s GSM network will cover around 99% of the Far East territory by 2013/14.
Prior to receiving its sought-after Far East frequencies from Roskomnadzor, Vimpelcom adopted a different tactic in its bid to achieve nationwide coverage. After months of negotiations, May 2011 saw the cellco purchase KT Corp’s 79.96% majority stake in New Telephone Company (NTK) for USD346 million, fending off stiff competition from rivals MegaFon, Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) and Rostelecom. At that time NTK was the only telecoms company operating in the Primorsky Krai, which is bordered by China and North Korea, and often referred to as the ‘Maritime Province’. Strangely, during the ensuing time frame no effort has been made to rebrand NTK’s services using Vimpelcom’s favoured ‘Beeline’ imagery.