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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sonic Offers Moscow 3rd Roaming Option

Moscow's third GSM mobile operator, Sonic Duo, was finally working Thursday -- but only for subscribers of companies in other regions and countries.

After Sonic closed a roaming agreement with St. Petersburg's Northwest GSM, Russia's third-largest operator, mobile users from elsewhere have another roaming choice when they travel to the capital city.

"Sonic Duo is starting to provide services to guest subscribers in the Moscow region on an experimental-commercial basis," said Sonic Duo general director Alexander Yesikov in a statement.

The agreement means NWGSM customers will pay much less when traveling south, while Mobile TeleSystems and Vimpelcom, both Moscow-based, could experience a loss in potential revenues.

Subscribers of regional companies that are part of Megafon, a conglomerate of GSM operators that was created in August and includes Sonic Duo, will also pay less in Moscow because of inter-network roaming agreements.

Before, during peak hours NWGSM subscribers using MTS roaming paid $1.32 to call their home region and 71 cents for local calls; Beeline roaming was $1.55 to call home and 57 cents for local calls. New tariffs are 53 cents to call home and 40 cents for incoming and local calls.

"NWGSM is the most important roaming partner for both MTS and Vimpelcom," said Andrei Braginsky, analyst at Renaissance Capital.

He estimated that both companies will lose a potential $4 million in annual revenues, which would account for less than 1 percent of total revenues.

St. Petersburg holding Telecominvest owns 31 percent of the Megafon project, with other stakes belonging to Finnish Sonera, Swedish Telia and CT-Mobile in Moscow, which previously controlled Sonic Duo.

Sonic Duo received a GSM license from the Communications Ministry over a year ago and had planned to launch by mid-2001. The date has been pushed back to the latter part of this year, and both analysts and operators don't expect the company to make a huge dent on the Moscow market in the first few months.

"This new network in the first year or two will not have as good coverage as other operators," said MTS marketing director Igor Timofeyev in Profile magazine. It "will be intended in the first place not even for its own subscribers, but for roamers."

J'son and Partners consultancy forecasted that Sonic Duo would pick up 20,000 subscribers by the end of the year. MTS should have around 2.3 million subscribers by the end of the year and Vimpelcom 1.5 million, according to J'son and Partners.

Other Russian operators are aiming to create inter-network roaming, so their subscribers don't bleed rubles when they travel afar. MTS and Vimpelcom are both in the process of stretching more aggressively into the regions by opening up branches there.

"Inter-network roaming -- that's what it's all about nowadays. One of the main ideas behind setting up operations throughout the whole country is to introduce reduced roaming rates," said Anton Pogrebinsky of J'son and Partners.

Nevertheless, the NWGSM signal in Moscow did not cover the whole city Thursday, according to Beeline and MTS subscribers in the center.