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The French telecommunications operator Orange remains on track to launch Armenia’s third mobile phone network before the end of this year, a top company executive said on Wednesday.

Bruno Duthoit, the chief executive of the newly registered Orange-Armenia brand, also insisted that the France Telecom group’s mobile phone unit is undaunted by the near saturation of the local market for wireless services.

Orange won last October an international tender for the right to launch and operate the third Armenian wireless network. It paid 50 million euros ($72 million) for the license, outbidding two other European telecom firms short-listed in the government-administered contest.

The company’s decision to take part in the bidding came as a surprise given the small size of Armenia’s economy and rapid growth of its wireless sector in recent years. As of last January, an estimated 2.6 million of the country’s 3 million residents had mobile phones connected to two networks owned by the subsidiaries of Russia’s two largest wireless operators, MTS and Beeline.

Echoing statements by other Orange executives, Duthoit said the company feels that there is still room for a new operator’s entry into the market. “Meeting many people and looking into market studies, I get the impression that many clients are awaiting an enlargement of their choice,” he told RFE/RL in an interview. “In particular, there are people who still don’t use mobile phones or use the services provided by the other operators but would like to have more choice in the terms of the quality of the services.”

Duthoit added that Orange-Armenia does not plan drastic cuts in the existing mobile phone fees and will instead seek to woo Armenians with “a new approach, a new perception, a new image and perhaps certain new services.” An Orange spokesman in Paris said late last year that the French giant will put the emphasis on third-generation (3G) services such as video calls and broadband Internet connection.

The two other local mobile phone operators, meanwhile, said that they are gearing up for tighter competition in the market. “Of course, we are very seriously preparing for the entry of the third operator,” said Anush Beghloyan, a spokeswoman for the national telecoms company ArmenTel owned by Beeline. “But we are not afraid and don’t think that it will reflect negatively on the number of our mobile subscribers.”

Ralf Yirikian, the executive director of the rival VivaCell-MTS network, which boasts more than 2 million subscribers, also claimed to be ready for “healthy competition” with Europe’s second-largest mobile operator. Speaking to RFE/RL, Yirikian also admitted that Orange-Armenia can attract a sizable number of customers.

“Let us not forget that we Armenians, including myself, are a bit of show-offs and want to have a number of different [cellphone] numbers with different access code numbers,” he said. “So there is room [for another operator.]”
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