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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Russia & CIS Com 2009: a good place to do business in the region

I'd like to pass on my good wishes to everyone working to deliver another great Russia & CIS Com conference and exhibition in Moscow this year. The 2009 iteration of this useful annual event takes place 2-3 June at the usual venue, the Radisson SaS Slavjanskaya Hotel.

It was my pleasure to produce the 2007 and 2008 versions of this event during my enjoyable stint with Informa Telecoms & Media so I will be interested to hear about how a new wrinkle in the design of the agenda works out.

We observed last year that while delegate numbers were strong on the first day, the crowd was noticeably thinner on the second day. We were keen to improve this situation in 2009 and beyond for the sponsors and exhibitors whose support makes the event possible. I think we worked out what was causing the problem.

With most of the events in the Com World Series, of which Russia & CIS Com is part, the conference gathers delegates from quite a large number of countries. The Moscow event, in contrast, tends to appeal mainly to telecoms sector executives from the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus only. Quite a high percentage of visitors come from the many telecoms businesses based in Moscow itself. Whereas out-of-town visitors to a conference tend to spend most of the two days of any event at the venue, those based in the venue city find it harder not to keep stepping out to keep on top of their day-to-day responsibilities. I think for a lot of the Muscovites in attendance, one day works out as a reasonable time commitment to the conference, but two days is a bit more of a stretch.

The device we dreamed up to resolve this was to split the agenda into two distinct chunks - each a conference within a conference, I suppose. So this year's Russia & CIS Com features one highly cellular-centric day of discussions and another which is focused more on wireline and fixed-wireless broadband, IPTV etc. Even in this age of accelerating convergence between fixed and mobile networks/services/technologies, we thought there is still a meaningful distinction between the "mobile crowd" and the "fixed crowd", at least for now. My hunch is that this will work well, delivering two somewhat overlapping crowds across the two days. I expect to hear that sponsors and exhibitors have gained from this and I daresay my former colleagues have briefed them on how to maximise the networking opportunity.

One returnee from the 2008 speaker panel is Konstantin Tikar, General Director of the Belarusian incumbent fixed-line operator, Beltelecom, whose mobile unit, CDMA operator Belcel has recently struck a revenue share deal with Velcom, the local subsidiary of mobilkom austria. According to a recent Total Telecom article, market-leading GSM operator Velcom will soon begin selling mobile broadband services in partnership with its rival Belcel. The article states that the 50/50 revenue-sharing agreement will see Velcom take control of Belcel's retail mobile broadband sales and customer service operation, while Belcel will manage and operate the infrastructure side of the business. Services will run on Belcel's EV-DO network, which currently supports data rates of up to 3.1 Mbps. With the country's GSM operators having yet to deploy W-CDMA networks of their own, this deal enables Velcom to get a 3G mobile broadband proposition to market ahead of rivals MTS Belarus and Turkcell-backed Life :) Belarus.

My guess is that Belcel will benefit greatly from having the much more successful Velcom handling the sales and customer service side of things. The CDMA operator's mobile market share has remained stuck at under 2% since the summer of 2006. Fifty percent of something significant has to be better than one hundred percent of not very much, I guess.

Mr Tikar is quoted in the Total Telecom story as saying "The cooperation [announced] today allows Belcel to increase the quality and capacity of its network significantly," while Velcom CEO Helmut Duhs observes that the agreement "provides our customers with a mature mobile broadband service and future-proof option to upgrade, once even more advanced technology becomes available in Belarus."

I'd like to congratulate my former colleagues on securing some strong speakers for Russia & CIS Com 2009. Among those joining Mr Tikar on stage at the conference will be:

If you aim to do business in that part of the world, I'd urge you to build a trip around a visit to the conference and exhibition.

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