Russian state-backed telco Rostelecom is planning to decommission the majority of its public payphones by the end of this year in favour of a universal communications service (UCS) programme to accelerate the installation of wireless base stations, reports ComNews quoting representatives from the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications & Mass Media and the telco itself. By the end of 2021 Rostelecom expects to decommission most of its payphones in settlements with populations of more than 1,000 people, as well as payphones in smaller settlements with minimal levels of usage (those registering call traffic of less than one minute per month for 2020).
The Ministry’s press service told ComNews that the reduction in payphones is required to redirect funds for the federal digital divide elimination programme, the latest phase of which consists of deploying mobile broadband infrastructure in small villages (UCS 2.0). The actual numbers and locations of payphones to be decommissioned will be announced later. Minister of Digital Development, Communications & Mass Media Maksut Shadayev recently stated: ‘In order to connect small settlements to the internet as soon as possible, we will have to abandon the use of payphones where they are not currently in demand. This will free up resources for the accelerated construction of modern base stations using 4G technology.’ Rostelecom’s press service said that the company is awaiting the signing of its second-phase federal contract for UCS provision, which will finalise the scope of base station deployment in settlements of 100-500 people, as well as the number and addresses of payphones to be decommissioned. Around 147,000 payphones are currently operated across Russia under UCS provision, but according to an analyst cited by ComNews this number could fall to below 20,000 via the planned reduction programme.
Separately, Rostelecom’s mobile subsidiary Tele2 Russia has strengthened its commercial 4G LTE services in Moscow and St Petersburg using 2300MHz band wireless broadband frequencies belonging to the parent company, which are among the spectrum resources earmarked for the UCS 2.0 programme. Telesputnik reported the development citing information from TelecomDaily and Vedomosti, noting that Tele2 had earlier submitted applications to regulator Roskomnadzor for permits to operate base stations using the 2.3GHz-2.4GHz band. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that in December 2019 the State Commission for Radio Frequencies (SCRF) allocated the 2300MHz-2400MHz frequency range to Rostelecom across 83 Russia regions, aimed at developing wireless broadband communications at essential facilities (‘socially significant objects [SSOs]’) including schools, medical buildings, state bodies, territorial election commissions, fire and police stations, facilities of the Russian Guard and other locations, under the Digital Economy national programme. In late December 2020 the SCRF altered the wording of the 2300MHz licensing conditions, permitting the frequencies to be used for purposes other than SSO internet/telephony connections, effectively broadening their scope to include commercial mobile broadband services.