29 Sep 2008

Catching up on developments across Eurasia

We will very shortly be getting to work on the arrangements for our 5th annual Eurasia Com conference and exhibition in Turkey. The event will take place 25-26 March 2009, with Istanbul being the host city for the third consecutive year, following on from an initial two years in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

For us, the term 'Eurasia' maps quite closely to TeliaSonera's use of this sometimes ambiguous word. With reference to the company's TeliaSonera Eurasia business area, the giant Scandinavian telco, like us, seems to use the term 'Eurasia' in the geopolitical sense, i.e. as a (neutral) way of referring to the post-Soviet states, in particular the Central Asian republics and the Transcaucasian republics.

So, our Eurasia Com conference, as well as attracting plenty of delegates from the host country's operators (Turkcell, Turk Telekom, Avea etc.), is really designed to offer networking and learning opportunities to execs from the service providers of Caspian states (Armenia, Azerbijan, Georgia) and 'the -stans' of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. Mongolian delegates have also shown up in pretty good numbers for the last two years.

We find that a number of tech vendors we speak with find this to be an interesting but challenging region. Growth potential is good: mobile markets are some way from reaching European-levels of penetration, 3G networks are not yet ubiquitous, wireline teledensity is quite low. However, my own experiences of developing contacts in this part of the world make me realise that it's not always easy for some companies to explore the possibilities and do business with the operators that are taking advantage of the growth opportunities. So we believe that our event offers a uniquely valuable one-stop shop for vendors looking to make improve their connections in this region.

I am therefore working to catch up with any interesting developments that have taken place across these markets since we last visited Istanbul in April this year. A notable one is TeliaSonera's integration of two previously separate mobile operators in Tajikistan, Indigo and Somoncom. These two companies were among the assets the Scandinavian telco acquired when it bought U.S.-based MCT Corp. back in 2007. MCT also had stakes in Coscom of Uzbekistan (now rebranded UCell) as well as a smaller stake in Roshan of Afghanistan. According to a Global Mobile Daily report last week, Ucell have just launched 3G services in the cities of Tashkent and Samarkand. This leaves Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan as the region's markets that had not reported W-CDMA subscriptions to the World Cellular Information Service by June of this year. Turkey's 3G licensing process has been much delayed so, overall, I expect Eurasia Com to be attended by a lot of delegates who have yet to gain extensive experience working in a market where 3G services are available. If that translates into pent-up demand to learn from colleagues who do have useful experiences and insights to offer, we should see very lively networking and discussions.