Branson to explore Virgin territory with Russian LTE scheme?

30 Aug 2012

Richard Branson’s international Virgin Mobile operation is reportedly eyeing up the Russian market for future expansion, RBC Daily reports. Speaking at the company’s recent press conference to announce the launch of mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Virgin Poland, Kristian Myrup, the head of the new Virgin Mobile Central and Eastern Europe division told reporters: ‘Virgin Mobile Central and Eastern Europe is a new regional company in the Virgin Group. We are looking into expanding our business into Poland obviously but also potentially to Turkey, Russia, Hungary and others’. However, it has subsequently been revealed by an anonymous source at one of Russia’s established mobile operators that Virgin has taken steps to roll out an independent Long Term Evolution (LTE) network in the 3.5GHz frequency range, albeit offering no details as to how Virgin gained access to the spectrum in question. Elsewhere, local press reports have suggested that Virgin harbours plans to collaborate with the Russian subsidiary of Swedish-owned Tele2 on the aforementioned build-out. Tele2 representatives were reluctant to comment on ‘rumours regarding any negotiations with Virgin’ and warned that ‘any entrance and development of a new player can only be done through redistribution of the subscriber base of the current players’.

If Virgin presses ahead with its plan, it will not be the first attempt that the company has made to secure a foothold in the Russian market. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in 2007 Swiss-based telecoms holding company Trivon, which operates under the ‘Virgin Connect’ banner, acquired licences for the provision of broadband internet and voice services in Russia. The group possesses WiMAX-suitable spectrum in the 5.7GHz-6.5GHz frequency bands, covering 32 Russian regions, including Moscow, St. Petersburg and ‘the 20 largest cities in Russia’. Over time Virgin Connect has comprehensively expanded the reach of its network, and currently claims to have a presence in 85 cities, although the WiMAX component of its network remains unchanged, at 32 cities. Somewhat cryptically, parent company Trivon describes Virgin Connect as ‘technology agnostic’.