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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Price of Access: Hassle-Free Phoning

While for humble Muscovites the ability to make direct international calls for the first time last year was a revelation, for many businesses it meant phone bills could be cut by up to 50 percent. Calls using the state network are at least half the price of the specialist international service providers in the city. These companies (like Comstar, Combellga and Sovintel) had for the previous three years made their money from installing individual international lines and making connections to the West via satellite. One used them because for all intents and purposes one had no choice. In spite of their potential loss of market share, these companies are still with us and show absolutely no signs of disappearing. They continue to fulfil a need, though the emphasis has now started to shift. The first advantage of international providers is guaranteed access. The state network has bad days, and it is an unwritten law here that one of the network's bad days will coincide exactly with the day you have to send that important fax or someone abroad must urgently reach you. The second advantage is line quality. Rostelekom and the international service providers are not selling the same product for different prices. The Russian state network is so old that even replacing every centimeter of existing cable would not make your call clear. From the moment you finish dialing, the local telephone network can distort, interrupt, misdirect or even cut off your call. Old Russian handsets give poor amplification of your voice, badly wired lines into your apartment or office reduce line quality, wasted joints between cables make your connections noisy, ancient mechanical local telephone exchanges are so worn out they can misdirect calls and cause line noise. And of course on the state network, bottlenecks at various points along the system may mean you cannot get through at all. If you do get through, sending international faxes or making modem connections can be a very hit and miss affair. The main international service providers have over the last few years been building overlay networks. An overlay network is an alternative, or new, route for calls to take which avoids the existing telephone system. Combellga, for example, now has a total of 400 kilometers of copper wire and 200 kilometers of optical fiber in Moscow connecting about 3,000 customers. No Combellga traffic travels on the city network. If you need an international service, each has different strengths. Comstar can connect more locations in Moscow than any other provider and convert an existing Moscow local telephone network line to a Comstar line. In cooperation with the local network, Comstar has installed a British System X digital exchange through which all Comstar calls are routed. This can be particularly useful for companies since it allows them to employ "hunting groups," a service enabling several city lines to be connected to a single number, making it much easier for potential customers to get through. The disadvantage is that calls have to use the state network which can affect quality. Combellga can connect anyone within the Garden Ring and a corridor to the north and south of the center. Since it operates its own overlay network, Combellga is in a better position to guarantee line quality. The disadvantage is that without upgrading your Combellga line the only people in Russia you can call are the other 3,000 Combellga users. Likewise, no one in Russia can call you on your Combellga line. Sovintel offers probably the best guarantee of quality since it connects most of its customers by fiber-optic cable. Sovintel users can now dial Moscow city telephone numbers. However, it is not cheap and its customers tend to be hotels -- famous for passing their customers huge telephone bills without blushing. For further information contact: Combellga at 239-1647, Comstar at 956-0239 and Sovintel at 215-6057. Robert Farish is the editor of Computer Business Russia: 275-2542