YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–France Telecom, one of the world’s largest telecommunication companies, pledged to apply its “innovative capacity” in Armenia on Thursday as it launched the country’s third mobile phone network after almost a year of preparation.
The French giant’s wireless division, Orange, said it has invested $90 million in its new Armenian subsidiary and opened 300 jobs there since winning a government license in an international tender held last year. The operator paid 50 million euros ($74 million) for the license, outbidding two other European telecom firms short-listed in the government-administered contest.
Didier Lombard, the France Telecom chairman, welcomed the “new birth in the Orange family” after inaugurating Orange-Armenia’s main service center in downtown Yerevan. “Armenia is joining 183,000 employees of Orange and especially 189 million clients who are benefiting from the know-how, the quality of innovation of Europe’s third-largest [mobile] operator,” he told a news conference.
Lombard said gaining a foothold in Armenia had a “particular significance” for his transnational group. “There are very special links between France and Armenia,” he said. “France has a very powerful Armenian community which we are going to cater for.”
France Telecom’s decision to expand into Armenia came as a surprise given the small size of the local economy and the near saturation of its market for wireless services. As of last January, an estimated 2.6 million of the country’s 3 million residents had mobile phones connected to two networks owned by the subsidiaries of Russia’s two largest wireless operators, MTS and Beeline.
Their Armenian subsidiaries currently top the list of Armenia’s largest corporate taxpayers, having paid 13 billion drams ($33.8 million) and 11 billion drams respectively in various taxes from January through September this year. Orange-Armenia already occupies 10th place in the list compiled by the State Revenue Committee (SRC), with almost 3.6 billion drams contributed to the state budget during the same period.
Echoing statements by top Orange executives, Lombard said the French operator will rely on its “innovative capacity” and “new technologies” of telecommunication in what promises to be a fierce competition with MTS and Beeline. Orange-Armenia will specifically seek to lure subscribers with what its marketing chief, Aram Mkrtchian, called a “super high-speed Internet connection.”
“Our aim is to make the Internet affordable for everyone in Armenia,” said Mkrtchian. “That is why we have introduced two state-of-the-art equipments in the Armenian market.”
According to Orange-Armenia’s director-general, Bruno Duthoit, the newly built wireless network covers 83 percent of Armenian territory, including some 500 cities, towns and villages. Duthoit said as many as 65,000 Armenian registered for Orange subscription online on Wednesday alone. Some of them could be seen on Thursday lining up outside company offices in Yerevan to get their new SIM cards.