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By Ruzanna Stepanian
Top executives from ArmenTel pledged on Thursday to eliminate by the end of this month the still mysterious technical problems that have all but disrupted its mobile phone network, the biggest in Armenia.

They admitted that failure to do so quickly could lead to a mass flight of ArmenTel subscribers to a rival telecom firm that became the country’s second cellphone operator earlier this year.

“Yes, we have [such concerns],” said Vasilios Fetsis, the chief executive director of the Greek-owned national operator. “This is what competition is all about. If you are not better, you lose your customers.”

“There are risks but we believe that we will provide better service. Competition is tough and we are fully aware of that,” Fetsis told a news conference.

Making or receiving phone calls has been extremely difficult and at times impossible for ArmenTel service users ever since the second operator, the Lebanese-owned VivaCell, launched its network on July 1. ArmenTel has still not provided a clear explanation of the causes of the breakdown. But many believe that its network was not prepared for increased phone traffic and a massive influx of new subscribers that has resulted from a drastic reduction in ArmenTel’s wireless tariffs.

The situation with mobile phone connection has somewhat improved this week but the company’s technical director, Yannis Smarnakis, acknowledged that it is still “not good.” Both he and Fetsis said ArmenTel engineers are doing their best to fully restore the network within the next three weeks.

But there are signs that the Armenian government is losing patience with ArmenTel. The State Commission on the Protection of Economic Competition is scheduled to hold hearings on the issue Friday and could impose heavy fines on the unpopular operator as a result.

Fetsis said his company is ready to pay fines if it is found to have violated laws or government regulations. “We are ready to defend our rights and to pay for our mistakes if there are ones,” he said.

(Photolur photo: Vasilios Fetsis.)
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