By Shakeh Avoyan
A Lebanese-owned firm that was controversially chosen as Armenia’s second mobile phone operator said on Tuesday that it has delayed the launch of the long-awaited alternative network due to alleged obstruction from ArmenTel, the national telecommunications operator.
The company called K-Telecom was scheduled to make the first test phone call from its network which is currently installed in Yerevan.
“Unfortunately we failed to do that because there are many problems,” its executive director, Ralph Yerikian. “One of them is the fact that we have still not signed an [interoperability] agreement with ArmenTel. That means we are unable to connect our network to theirs. It also means that our subscribers won’t be able to connect to their subscribers.”
“They are apparently trying to drag out things as long as possible,” Yerikian charged.
ArmenTel officials could not be immediately reached for comment. The company owned by Greece’s telecom giant OTE has until now had a legal monopoly on all forms of telecommunication in Armenia. It agreed to abandon its exclusive control of mobile telephony last November as part of a compromise agreement ending its disputes with the Armenian government.
Officials said at the time that ArmenTel will share some of its mobile phone frequencies with K-Telecom. The latter promised to launch the new wireless network this summer. But Yerikian said those plans have now been pushed back because of ArmenTel.
The ArmenTel monopoly has been widely blamed for the underdeveloped state of mobile telephony in Armenia. The OTE subsidiary has failed to meet demand in mobile phone use, resorting to Soviet-style rationing of phone activation cards. ArmenTel’s chief executive, Vasilios Fetsis, publicly apologized for the flop in December.
ArmenTel currently has over 200,000 wireless subscribers and hopes to attract at least 100,000 others before the K-Telecom network goes into service later this year.
K-Telecom was selected by the government as the second mobile operator on November 4 without a transparent and competitive bidding. Officials said afterward that the company owned by Yerikian and another Lebanese national, Pierre Fattouch, will pay only $7 million for the lucrative license.
The two men are also the principal owners of the Karabakh-Telecom company that has managed Nagorno-Karabakh’s telephone network since 2002.