By Hovannes Shoghikian
In a further liberalization of the domestic telecommunications market, the government will formally call on Thursday an international tender for the right to become Armenia’s third mobile phone operator.
The Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) on Wednesday approved a detailed timetable for the selection process as well as the bidding rules and specifications. The process, involving a shortlisting of the strongest bidders, is to take more than four months.
Gevorg Gevorgian, head of the PSRC’s telecommunications division, said prospective wireless operators will have to offer to pay at least 10 million euros ($16 million) for the license and invest at least 200 million euros in their would-be networks.
The Armenian government decided last year to open the sector to a third operator despite an explosion in mobile phone use in the country that followed the abolition in late 2004 of the ArmenTel national telecom company’s monopoly on the wireless service. There an estimated 2 million cellphone users in Armenia at present. About two-thirds of them are subscribed to the VivaCell network owned by Russia’s largest mobile operator, MTS.
Another Russian telecom giant, Vimpelcom, is the parent company of ArmenTel. The Armenian press has for months speculated the third wireless license will also be sold to a Russian firm.
According to the PSRC chairman, Robert Nazarian, the third operator will make the service even more accessible to Armenians. “The entry of a third operator could make competition in the sector even tighter,” he said. “We expect to have an improved quality of services and a reduction in tariffs.”