TBY talks to Christoph Beck, lead CT Head for Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkmenistan at Nokia Siemens Networks, on rolling out 2G and 3G networks, the specialties of the Azerbaijani market, and prospects for 4G.
TBY What is the history of Nokia Siemens Networks’ (NSN) involvement in the Azerbaijani market?
CHRISTOPH BECK We started off as Siemens LLC before going into a joint venture with Nokia. Siemens LLC entered the Azerbaijani market with GSM network equipment and services in 2006 after it won the GSM network tender from Azerfon. Azerfon was at that time preparing for its launch into the Azerbaijani mobile market. Shortly afterwards we also won a network modernization tender from Bakcell. Considering our increasing involvement in the country, it was decided to set up a dedicated subsidiary for the network infrastructure business in Azerbaijan. We’ve since then become a small regional hub, supporting also NSN business in Georgia and Turkmenistan from here.
What are some of the main challenges that Nokia Siemens Networks has faced in rolling out the 2G and 3G network in Azerbaijan?
Our first challenge was that the majority of our team was completely new to this environment. It was quite a challenge to find on short notice skilled local engineers and staff, especially for the implementation, maintenance, and planning of GSM network infrastructure. Azerbaijan was also a completely new legal environment for the first management of the new subsidiary. To find appropriate sites for our radio equipment was also a challenge. When we entered the market, property values were booming—as were the expectations of landowners. Azerbaijan is also today a very dynamic market. But in 2006 and 2007 Azerbaijan experienced growth rates between 20% and 30%, making Azerbaijan then the country with the biggest relative growth rates in the world. So, site acquisition was a challenge, as well as getting the necessary legal permits. Later, site acquisition was taken care of directly by our customers.
How would you compare the Azerbaijani market to the other markets that you cover in Georgia and Turkmenistan?
The Georgian telecoms market is very deregulated. In Georgia, the first 3G network was commercially launched as early as 2006. So we can say that Georgia is quite ahead of many other countries, including even Russia and Turkey and most CIS countries with regard to launching new telecom technologies. Georgia is very focused on services industries like tourism, banking, infrastructure, transport, and telecommunications. Certainly, the main difference is that Georgia has no big oil or gas resources of its own. Turkmenistan, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. The telecommunications sector there remains tightly regulated and all telecommunications operators at the moment are government owned. So Azerbaijan is located sort of in the middle. We have a healthy competition here in the GSM sector between the three mobile operators: Azerfon, Bakcell, and Azercell.
Who are your main competitors when it comes to the provision of mobile network infrastructure?
It’s not just a competitive market on the mobile operators’ side, but also in terms of infrastructure vendors. All the biggest world players are here and they are very active. Nevertheless, Nokia Siemens Networks could acquire and retain a very strong market share in Azerbaijan. For example, when Bakcell launched a second modernization and capacity extension project in 2009, NSN won the tender against quite tough competition.
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