Science: Better Moscow connections: Robert Farish looks at how US companies are using satellite and fibre to switch Russians to a clearer telephone line

Everyone in Moscow develops an intimate feel for the telephone system. You know from the clicks on your line if your call is held up at the local exchange you are dialling (engaged sound after the first digit) or if your call is able to leave the city (successfully getting a tone after dialling 8). You know that in mid-winter when the lines are frozen the phones work better than in the spring thaw when water interferes with connections. Virtually every company in the city has to battle over the number of telephone lines it can occupy. Because the network is always so painfully evident, one regards the telecommunications system here in much the same way as most people in Britain view the weather.

But the past 12 months have seen a major change in the telephone networks of Russia's two largest cities. In Moscow and St Petersburg international calls are now available to hundreds of thousand of homes and business and mobile telephony is available to anyone who can afford it. The result is that competition is driving many companies to start investing in the rest of Russia.

One reason for improvements in Moscow and St Petersburg is that US-based Andrew Corporation and its numerous Russian partners have laid fibre optic cable around the city's metro systems (it is now working on a similar project in Kiev). Fibre optical cable is the best modern method for carrying telephone traffic, and it has potentially huge capacity.

So far no other Western companies have followed Andrew Corporation's example. 'Fibre is very expensive and I don't see any competition on this side for a while,' says John Gerun, business manager of Andrew International. 'The quickest and most realistic way to get service to Russian cities is by satellite.' In fact Russia is so vast and the telecommunications infrastructure so poor that until at least the end of the decade satellites rather than cables will be the primary method for extending telecommunications.

Andrew Corporation's satellite venture, Rascomsat, has a licence to provide telephone services to anywhere in Russia east of the Urals. Mr Gerun says the venture is concentrating its efforts on Russian cities with 3 million to 4 million inhabitants. 'Initially we aim to put a satellite antennae into locations large enough for there to be enough customers who can pay. Having a satellite downlink will help local services to develop in a kind of spiders web around it. This in itself will create the economic impetus for someone to later run fibre to a city,' he says.

Rustel is a joint US-Russian venture with a slightly different approach. It specialises in providing international connections to pockets of business and industrial customers in rural areas and smaller cities. In the Soviet Union settlements tended to be built around natural resources, but were left isolated from the rest of the country. Today many of these places are still economically viable but suffer from a lack of transport or telecommunications connections. 'We go into an area and invest in infrastructure which can immediately be used by businesses and industry,' says Jim Hickman, general director of Rustel. 'Right now it's not necessary to provide international connections for everyone there because honestly most people in these areas have no reason to want to call abroad.'

Yet Russia's secondary cities are also benefiting. Until this year the Russian Ministry of Communications had not granted any licences to regional telephone authorities to provide international services, as it was determined to preserve the monopoly of Rostelecom, the state international and inter-

regional carrier. Yet now they are forming companies with foreign partners, and for the first time people in these cities are able to make trouble-free calls to Moscow or abroad. Rustel, for example, has now established services in the Ural cities of Perm, Ufa, Kras and Tyumen, and this year it hopes to open another in Ekaterinburg.

A company specialising in the remotest of locations is the US firm BelCom. It supplies Western oil companies with international satellite connections, often in regions where there are no telephone connections at all. BelCom is particularly keen to increase its activity in the Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, where it has a large proportion of its customers. In April it held meetings with all of the heads of the Communications Ministries in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. According to Ian MacNeil, marketing and sales manager at BelCom, the company hopes to become the international operator for all of these countries by creating a satellite network linking them. The situation in these countries is particularly ripe for such services as the existing telephone network is even worse than in Russia and as newly independent states they want to organise international communications which do not depend on Moscow.

A less niche-minded company is New York-based SFMT. It has raised dollars 100m in debt and equity from US and European investors based on a vision of how it will blend the services of two Moscow companies of which it is co- owner with an ambitious plan to connect hundreds of other Russian cities. The idea is to build an inter-city network which both shadows and connects with the existing state system. At the centre of the SFMT plan is Rusnet - a joint venture between SFMT and its local and foreign partners.

During 1994 the Rusnet network will be extended from Moscow to Tyumen, Krasnodar, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and Ufa, using a combination of five new regional satellite earth stations and some existing cable connections. Next year a further 10 cities will get satellite connections, increasing to 25 in 1996. Complementing these will be VSAT stations (smaller satellite antennae called Very Small Aperture Terminals). By 1996 125 locations will be reachable by VSAT. Responsibility for the success of this ambitious project rests on the shoulders of Henry Radzikowski, chief executive officer of SFMT for the Commonwealth of Independent States. He says there is little doubt about the need or the market for telecommunications services; the key to success in Russia is to actually make your plans happen. For anyone with several million dollars to invest he advises, 'In Russia you don't invest if you don't run the network - and if you don't know how to run a network, don't invest.'

The author is editor of 'Computer Business Russia'. Tel/fax: (010-7 095) 265 42 14 e-mail: farish@glas. apc. org.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee