Sri Lanka’s second largest cellular operator Celltel Lanka has announced plans to double its subscriber base to over 1.5 million users by the end of this year. Celltel, owned by Luxembourg-based mobile group Millicom, is to invest USD30 million in its GSM network over the next three months to build 50 new base stations, to take its coverage to approximately 70% of the island. The expansion is part of a USD100 million programme to roll out a total of 750 base stations by March 2007 to compete directly with market leader Dialog Telekom, owned by Telekom Malaysia. At the end of March 2006 Celltel’s network provided coverage to 47% of the population. Celltel’s CEO Dumindra Ratnayaka said that 70% of the planned 750 towers are now in place, giving improved coverage in small villages and towns. He added that the new base stations include a 1800MHz layer in Colombo and key outlying towns to improve capacity and connectivity. Celltel has also commissioned its third GSM switch with a capacity of three million subscribers. ‘This takes our total number of switches to four, including one analogue switch, while all the new base stations will be commissioned with high power transmitters giving extra coverage,’ said Ratnayaka
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database notes that in 2006 Celltel began actively migrating its analogue customers to GSM ahead of a scheduled termination of ETACS services in 2007. Meanwhile, aiming to close the technology gap on Dialog, it also announced plans to roll out GPRS and EDGE data platforms. It strengthened its hand in February 2006 by gaining an 1800MHz spectrum allocation to add to its existing GSM-900 frequency at a cost of USD5 million. The following month it announced plans to invest USD100 million in the rollout of around 500 new base stations in the northeast of the island, though not in areas wholly controlled by Tamil separatists.
Celltel’s commercial director Aniljit Singh said the company is now ready to seriously challenge Dialog, which according to GlobalComms, commanded 61.5% of the market at the end of September 2006, with 2.83 million subscribers, 83% of which used pre-paid services. Celltel claimed 764,000 subscribers by the same date, or 16.6% of a total market of 4.607 million subscribers, representing a national cellular penetration of 23.5%. By the end of 2006, estimates put the country total at over 5.8 million subscribers. This year, Celltel plans to switch its name to Tigo Sri Lanka, to bring it in line with a global rebranding by parent Millicom.