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Spacetel Syria plans GPRS launch

Spacetel Syria has recruited Ericsson to upgrade its GSM network and is seeking approval to import MMS equipment.

Spacetel Syria has embarked on the next phase of its network expansion plan and has pledged to start offering GPRS and MMS-based services by early next year.

The mobile operator, a division of regional telecoms group, Investcom Holding, has contracted Swedish equipment supplier, Ericsson, to upgrade its 2G infrastructure to GPRS.

Spacetel is also currently deciding which vendor it will recruit to implement MMS.

It is aiming to provide multimedia services commercially by the beginning of next year, although it admits trade restrictions on products with US-manufactured components might cause a delay.

“We have contracted GPRS, which hopefully will be up and running by the end of the year,” says Ismail Jaroudi, deputy general director of Spacetel Syria.

“There might be a challenge in terms of the delivery of MMS, because of the embargo. We’re not buying the solution from American companies but the law says that if there is more than 10% of the components of the product from the US, you have to apply for an export licence,” he adds.

According to Jaroudi, Spacetel will offer services based on GPRS and MMS to both its post-paid and pre-paid subscriber bases.

Along with rival, Syriatel, the operator launched pre-paid services in 2003.

In the eight months since it began offering the service in October, it claims to have signed up 230,000 active users.

Predicting further rapid growth, it is planning to add more capacity to its Siemens-supplied intelligent networking (IN) platform to accommodate 1.5 million users by the end of 2005.

“We believe that the pre-paid market has just started,” says Jaroudi.

“We project that we will have 870,000 pre-paid users by the end of 2004 and hopefully we can reach 1.5 million subscribers next year,” he adds.

Spacetel, which currently holds around 46% of the market in Syria in terms of subsribers, is also looking to build up its network capacity over the next few months.

The operator’s core infrastructure currently has a switching capacity of 1.2 million subscribers, while its radio network includes around 700 base stations.

Although it plans to keep the number of deployed switches at eight, it intends to increase its radio sites to 950 by the end of the year.

“We’re investing heavily in the network itself. But it depends on getting approvals from the ministries and site acquisition,” says Jaroudi.

According to Jaroudi, the new base stations will largely focus on relieving congestion in urban areas, rather than extending Spacetel’s network to less populated regions.

The move will also form the operator’s last major phase of investment in network expansion before it turns its focus onto optimisation next year.

“We need to follow the behaviour of our subscriber base, so we’re still in the phase of strengthening the network in urban areas,” says Jaroudi.

“In the last three years, each year we have doubled our subscriber base and network coverage, and this year will be heavy in terms of investment as well. The major work will carry on until Q205, and then we will focus on upgrading our network and maintaining quality of service,” he adds.

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