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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vimpelcom Buys $26M Urals Ticket

The nation's second-largest cellular phone operator, Vimpelcom, said Tuesday it had acquired a company holding licenses for the Ural Mountains region, a buy that fills a big hole in its license portfolio.

Vimpelcom said it had paid $26.5 million to an unspecified seller for 100 percent of Vostok-Zapad Telecom, which holds a GSM-1800 license for the Urals Federal District, a huge swathe of Russia that stretches from Kazakhstan to the Arctic.

Vostok-Zapad also holds six GSM-900/1800 licenses for regions within the district, including Yekaterinburg, one of Russia's biggest provincial centers.

"Previously, Vimpelcom operated in the Urals only through Orensot, a GSM-900/1800 operator in the Orenburg region which we acquired in July 2002," Alexei Mishchenko, head of Vimpelcom's regional operators, said in a statement.

"We will start developing our plans to operate in the Ural super-region in line with our strategy of controlled and balanced national build-out," Mishchenko said.

Vimpelcom, backed by Telenor of Norway, has made only a few acquisitions in its campaign to build networks across Russia, starting from its home base in the capital.

It has stuck largely to greenfield operations, but senior Vimpelcom officials said in recent months they were eyeing a few acquisitions.

Among its handful of purchases, it acquired Orensot, the operator in the Orenburg region, earlier this year and this month announced it had bought 100 percent of Extel in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad -- 49 percent from Telenor and 51 percent from a group of private investors.