Mobile phone industry in Russia

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Euroset retail pavilion in Tver, Russia

The mobile phone industry in Russia has expanded rapidly to become one of the largest in the world.


In 1963, Russia's first mobile phone network using the car phone came into operation.[1]

Initial selection of technological mobile standard in Russia had been left for market forces by issuing licenses for different standards. Later, regulatory authorities have developed stricter policy. However, there still exists a great variety of both analogue and digital standards. NMT standard was a first generation analogue mobile technology that still has footstep in Russia, employed by commercial mobile operators since the early 90s.[2]

Regional operators have deployed the GSM[3] networks in Russia since 1995, originally in the 900 MHZ frequency band. GSM standard is dominating in Russian mobile market with small number of NMT-450, AMPS/DAMPS subscribers.

In 1994, a joint venture of Moscow City Telephone Network, T-Mobile and Siemens, which later became part of Mobile TeleSystems, offered Russia's first mobile phone service for the public in Moscow.[4] In the same year in June, VimpelCom also started Beeline mobile phone service.[5]

In 2002, MegaFon was formed to provide all-Russia service, amalgamating Sonic Duo of Moscow, Mobikom-Novosibirsk, and other companies.[6] In that year also, the number of mobile subscribers in Russia soared by 130% to 18mn, implying penetration of 12.3%, compared with 5.4% at the end of the previous year. The continued strong growth of the cellular subscriber base was largely due to the accelerating regional rollout of the major national cellular operators. In 2007, MegaFon started Russia's first 3G service in Saint Petersburg.[7]

Russian WiMAX operator Scartel (Yota brand), finished in 2010 its implementation of a trial LTE network in Kazan and plans to deploy LTE networks in Novosibirsk and Samara. In July 2010 Scartel received approval from regulator Roskomnadzor to abandon WiMAX for LTE, re-using its existing spectrum. the regulator had however previously insisted that the frequencies allocated to Scartel for WiMAX could not be used for other access types.

On the Amur Highway at the beginning of October 2011 MTS, Vimpelcom and Megaphone completed the construction of a joint network to provide mobile communication. Operators built across the highway 102 towers (of 140 towers) for base stations, 32 of which have launched MTS and "MegaFon" and 38 by VimpelCom (due to the fact that it has only in the Far East 3G licenses, and in some regions of the Federation, GSM- 1800).

The 2012 tender of the Ministry of Communications awarded licenses to deploy LTE networks in the lower (720-790 MHz, 791 - 862 MHz) and upper (2500-2690 MHz) bands to the "big 3" (Megafon, MTS and Vympelcom) and to the national fixed-line operator Rostelecom. Each of the winners relies on two lanes wide in the upper range of 10 MHz and 7.5 MHz in the lower. The upper range of frequencies considered to be free and is suitable for deploying LTE. However, the lower, mostly occupied by the security forces and navigation and radar systems.[8]

On September of that year MTS launched the country’s first TD-LTE network, using the TD-LTE spectrum in the 2595-2620 MHz band it secured in February.[9] Nokia Siemens had provided its Single Radio Access Network using energy-efficient Flexi Multiradio Base Stations as well as its Liquid Core-based Evolved Packet Core platform.

On November 2013 Megafon began to provide the LTE network in the Republic of Kalmykia, the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and the Altai Krai. The network was launched in major cities in the regions Elista, Noyabrsk, Novy Urengoy and Gorno-Altaisk.[10] On the same month Mobile phone retailer Svyaznoi started selling SIM cards under the Svyaznoi Mobile brand in November, becoming a new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), using MTS infrastructure. Interregional TransitTelekom said a month later that it also plans to launch an MVNO in April 2014 targeting migrant workers, offering low cost calls to Central Asian countries.

In December 2013, Minister of Communications, Nikolai Nikiforov recalled that in 2011 270 base stations of LTE were launched, in 2012 about 4,000, in 2013 10,000 and it is planned that in 2014-2015 more than 15 thousand such stations.[11] On the same month it was announced that the "biggest four", Rostelecom, MTS, Beeline and Megafon completed the construction of communication facilities in the areas of transport corridor "North - South" and "East - West", with a total length of more than 11 thousand km. Work was done to ensure that these routes support advanced cellular communication, and operators spent money under the federal program to improve road safety and implementation of the "Glonass Era". Objects were built on federal roads M5 Ural, M6 Caspian, M53, M55 Baikal and M60 Ussuri according to the press service of the Ministry of Communications of Russia. Costs for the construction of antenna towers were divided by the operators on an equal share, and the cost to provide power to the communication infrastructure undertaken by the state.[12] At the end of this month Scartel (Yota brand) launched LTE network in the cities of Cheboksary, Irkutsk, Kirov, Omsk, Penza, and Ulyanovsk.[13]

Mobile phone service providers[edit]

There are four nationwide mobile phone service providers who possess 2G and 3G licenses in every region of Russia (so called Big-4):

Big-3 represents 82% of total mobile market
Mobile market in Russia, breakdown by operators.[14]


Mobile TeleSystems (MTS, in Russian: Мобильные ТелеСистемы), 51% owned by AFK Sistema, provides mobile phone service, using 2G GSM technology, and initiated 3G service, using W-CDMA technology. It also provides fixed broadband services and fixed-line telephony services (in Moscow via its 99% subsidiary MGTS).

As of June 2012, MTS was the biggest mobile operator in Russia in terms of subscriber base with 69.6 mln subscribers (31% market share). It also had 35,7 mln subscribers in several CIS-countries, including Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Belarus.[14] As of January 2012, MTS had 2.1 mln residential fixed broadband subscribers (11% market share) being the biggest player on the Moscow market (940,000 subscribers, or 27% market share).[15]


OJSC VimpelCom (fully owned by its parent company VimpelCom Ltd. incorporated in Bermuda) provides mobile services under Beeline brand, using 2G GSM and 3G (W-CDMA) technologies. In April 2011, VimpelCom closed the combination with Wind Telecom and turned into a global carrier operating in roughly 20 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Italy (Wind), Algeria (Djezzy), CIS countries and other.

As of June 2012 it had 55.7 mln subscribers in Russia (24% market share in terms of subscribers)[14] and over 209 mln subscribers worldwide.[16]


MegaFon (in Russian: МегаФон) is owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov and TeliaSonera. The company provides 2G (GSM) and 3G (W-CDMA) mobile phone services. In April 2012, MegaFon was the first of Big-3 operators to launch 4G services.[17] It is the only Big-3 company which remains private, yet rumours about company's possible IPO were circulating for several years. In June 2012 (after significant changes in shareholders structure)[17] MegaFon confirmed that it is looking for going public in second half of the year in case market conditions will become «favourable» [18]

As of June 2012, MegaFon had 55.7 mln subscribers in Russia (27% market share). Unlike MTS and VimpelCom, Megafon has neither developed operations outside Russia (it has only 1.6 mln subscribers in Tajikistan, Osetia and Abkhazia)[14] nor has focused on residential broadband services (its market share is below 4%, with most of subscribers in Moscow).[15]

Tele2 (Rostelecom)[edit]

Rostelecom the largest fixed-line operator and former monopoly, together with its subsidiary T2-Mobile provide mobile services on the territory of 65 regions of Russia, serving more than 36.5 million subscribers. During the 2010s, Rostelecom and Tele2 built mobile networks of the third generation in 40 regions of Russia. Total planned to install more than 8 thousand base stations. Suppliers of equipment and solutions for the 3G+ network are Ericsson and Huawei.[19] Delta Telecom (in Russian: Дельта Телеком) offers Sky Link (in Russian: Скай Линк) service in northwest Russia and other areas, using 2G, 3G and LTE-450 technology.[20]

Mobile phone industry[edit]

The mobile phone service provider licensing in Russia is under the control of Rospechat, the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of Russia.

For new technologies, Russia's mobile phone industry has depended on overseas companies.[21] For example, in 2009, MegaFon revealed that Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) was selected as the winner of its tender to building 3G network and that the following companies together would collaborate on MegaFon's 3G deployment and upgrades until 2010:[22]

The Russian mobile phone service operators have been active in their presence in the CIS and other foreign countries. Beeline is already in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Armenia. MegaFon is in Georgia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. Mobile TeleSystems is in Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India (using CDMA).

On December 4, 2013, the first Russian smartphone, Yotaphone was launched. YotaPhone is a smartphone with support for fourth generation networks, LTE. Feature of the device is the presence of a 4.3-inch screens on two sides: The LCD one is on the front, while the black and white screen with "electronic ink" is on the back side. The first device was awarded to Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev by Rostec state corporation head, Sergei Chemezov.[23][24]

Russian manufacturers[edit]

Number portability[edit]

Number portability officially became available in Russia on December 1, 2013. An appropriate legislation signed into law by President Vladimir Putin a year earlier, on December 26, 2012. Operators have repeatedly stated that the time allotted is not enough to run services.[26] Within 12 days since the law came into force, 9090 subscribers filed applications to move to another operator, of which only 57 until satisfied.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "First Russian Mobile Phone - English Russia". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  2. ^ Nordiac Mobile Telephone
  3. ^ Global System For Mobile Communications
  4. ^ "History". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  5. ^ History of VimpelCom Archived 2009-10-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ History of MegaFon Archived 2010-02-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ MegaFon starts 3G network. Archived 2010-03-12 at the Wayback Machine. (2007)
  8. ^ "263 LTE-сети запущены в коммерческую эксплуатацию". 21 January 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  9. ^ "MTS launches first TD-LTE network in Russia". 22 September 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  10. ^ ""МегаФон" добавил еще LTE". Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  11. ^ "Минкомсвязи верит в LTE". Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  12. ^ "Операторы завладели трассами". Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  13. ^ "Russia's Scartel to launch LTE networks in six cities on Wednesday". PRIME. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  14. ^ a b c d "Data Downloads". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  15. ^ a b "Downloads - Broadband Statistics". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  16. ^ "VimpelCom". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  17. ^ a b MegaFon launches 4G services via Yota; resolves ownership disputes Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MGFN IPO" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  18. ^ "MegaFon CEO sees unfavourable markets for IPOs". 5 June 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2016 – via Reuters.
  19. ^ "Дочка "Ростелекома" начала тестирование сети 3G+ в Красноярске". Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  20. ^ "CDG : Worldwide : Worldwide". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  21. ^ Russia's three providers plan 3G
  22. ^ MegaFon's 3G plan (2009)
  23. ^ "В России стартовали продажи YotaPhone". ITAR TASS. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  24. ^ "Russian PM Medvedev receives dual-screen YotaPhone". Pravda. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  25. ^ ""Связной" продал Explay". Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  26. ^ "Абоненты начали голосовать ногами". Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  27. ^ "MNP разменяла первые десять тысяч". Retrieved 14 December 2013.

External links[edit]