Uzbekistan’s largest CDMA operator, Perfectum Mobile also known as Rubicon Wireless and owned by national PTO Uzbektelecom (30%) and South Korea’s LG Electronics, has awarded China’s ZTE a contract to deliver and install a CDMA2000 1x network covering the capital Tashkent and the country’s major economic regions. The announcement forms part of the cellco’s ongoing phased introduction of nationwide CDMA services as it looks to fortify its position in the bristling domestic cellular market. Uzbekistan, which has a population of 25.98 million people, is home to no fewer than six mobile operators – Uzdunrobita, Uzmacom, Buztel, Coscom, Daewoo Unitel Company and Perfectum. At the end of September 2004 Uzdunrobita, which holds a nationwide GSM licence and AMPS/D-AMPS licences, and is 74%-owned by MTS of Russia, was the market leader with 260,000 subscribers, up from 210,350 in June, ahead of next-placed operator Unitel with 106,000. Unitel launched services in 1997 with the backing of Dawoo International, but last month local press sources revealed that the company was to be sold on to a consortium for USD73.5 million, with the EBRD financing the acquisition through an equity investment of USD9 million and a loan of USD30 million.
The last twelve months has seen renewed interest in the Uzbek mobile market. At the start of this month Coscom, an Uzbek/US joint venture, announced it was to invest USD10 million in expanding its GSM network, specifically through the deployment of around 70 Motorola and Alcatel base stations to boost capacity to 100,000 numbers along the country’s main transport routes. Coscom claimed just 62,000 subscribers at that date but hopes that increased coverage will enable it to close the gap on its two bigger rivals. The country’s other three cellcos, including Perfectum Mobile, are relative minnows by comparison. Perfectum has a market share of 6% (30,000 users), followed by Buztel (5%, 24,000) and Uzmacom (4%, 20,300). Buztel, a subsidiary of the Indonesian Bakrie group, has been thwarted in its plans to expand in recent years and been forced to postpone its upgrade plans as a result of new financial policies tightening monetary control in the country.
Uzmacom was formally established on 10 January 1996 and awarded a GSM-900 licence on the 8 November 1996. The licence expired on 5 August 2001 but was subsequently renewed for an additional 15 years. In May 2001 the company’s licence was amended to give it access to 1800MHz spectrum. Uzmacom’s network has coverage of Tashkent and the Tashkent region; a plan for network expansion has been developed and is expected to be put into practice in the near future. Uzmacom is a joint venture between SuperiorCom Mas Holdings Sendirian Berhad of Malaysia and the State Property Committee (GKI).