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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vimpelcom Cleared for Petersburg

Cellphone operator Vimpelcom said Friday that telecoms regulators had granted it a long-sought GSM license for the northwest region, including the key city of St. Petersburg.

A Communications Ministry source said late Thursday that Vimpelcom had received the license. The company confirmed the award in a statement early on Friday.

"We believe that a license for the northwest region will improve our competitive position in the growing Russian wireless telecommunications market," Vimpelcom chief executive Jo Lunder said in the statement.

The license will allow Vimpelcom to operate in territories covering 79 percent of the Russian population, up from the current 70 percent.

But the license will only allow it to operate a GSM-standard network in the 1800 frequency band, which is efficient in cities but not for remote areas.

Lunder said it would continue working to get frequencies in the 900 band.

"We have begun to plan the build out of our network in the northwest license area and we will continue our efforts to gain access to the 900 MHz frequency band in the license area."

The company last year swung back into profit after years of chronic losses and in 2002 overtook cross-town rival Mobile TeleSystems as the biggest operator in Moscow, for two years a cellular boomtown and now the biggest urban market in Russia.

But St. Petersburg and the surrounding area has been seen as a gaping hole in its expanding patchwork of networks across Russia.

The country's three leading operators are racing each other to roll out networks in regions outside Moscow, seen as some of the world's last untapped cellular markets.

Vimpelcom is the last of the three leading operators to receive permission to roll out a network in the northwest region.