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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NWGSM Taps Tajik Market

Becoming the first leading Russian cellular operator to take its business across the border, St. Petersburg-based Northwest GSM has formed a joint venture with Tajikistan's fixed-line operator.

TT Mobile, created in August as a 75-25 joint venture of NWGSM and state-owned Tajiktelecom, received a GSM license from the Tajikistan Communications Ministry last week and plans to start operations in the capital of Dushanbe in February, NWGSM announced Friday.

The new company will be the second GSM operator on Tajikistan's tiny, undeveloped cellular market, where Somoncom, commercially launched in the north of the country in March 2000, claims around 500 subscribers. Although less than 5 percent of Tajikistan's population has a regular phone, NWGSM sees "big potential" on the mobile market, said spokeswoman Maria Gavrilova.

Russia's third-largest mobile operator, with almost half a million subscribers in the northwest, NWGSM plans to invest $5 million by 2003, Gavrilova said. She declined to detail how Tajiktelecom is contributing financially or how many subscribers TT Mobile could attract.

The joint venture will compete with another start-up, Indigo-Tajikistan, majority owned by U.S. MCT Corp., which controls Somoncom.

MCT vice president of operations Jerry Walker said Indigo should receive a GSM license later this week and begin operations in late fall in Dushanbe, with an initial investment of $3 million to $4 million and expectations of 500 subscribers in the first year.

Walker said MCT had considered a joint venture with Tajiktelecom, but that they were put off by the operator's problems with its core business. "With the tremendous amount of work they've got to do on their wire system, I just don't believe that they could devote the time, effort, energy and resources to a wireless venture," Walker said.

As a potential boost to develop its poor communications infrastructure, Tajiktelecom last week won approval for up to $15.5 million in loans and grants from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. An EBRD spokesman said this money is not earmarked for mobile services.

NWGSM is also interested in Belarus and is participating in a tender for a GSM license there -- though Russia's No. 1 cellular provider, Mobile TeleSystems, is considered the likely winner.