The Second (Tele)Coming of MTS in Turkmenistan

Last week, MTS returned to Turkmenistan one and a half years after its mysterious departure. But will this prove to be a Second (tele)Coming? NewEurasia’s Annasoltan is skeptical.

Editor’s note: Last week, MTS returned to Turkmenistan two and a half years after its mysterious departure. But will this prove to be a Second (Tele)Coming? NewEurasia’s Annasoltan is skeptical.

In the first hours of August 30th, Turkmen who still possessed MTS SIM cards, two one and a half years after the company was mysteriously and unceremoniously booted out of Turkmenistan, reported receiving a signal. The long-awaited return of MTS to Turkmenistan has been greeted with widespread joy — and jokes.

Our state provider, Altyn Asyr, could not deal with the demand, although they did make strenuous efforts to prepare by offering a new variegated tariff regime with names like “100” and “Go”. Yet, I’ve heard jokes about Altyn Asyr circulating in Turkmenistan. For example:

Re: “100”, “You try 99 times and only once you succeed in calling.”

Re: “Go”, “Rather than calling somebody, you better ‘go’ visit them, instead.”

Still, MTS is apparently rewarding loyal customers. Between August 30 and September 30, they are offering to old clients who have kept their SIM cards a 20% bonus on their accounts, plus 30 free minutes of calling within the MTS network every day.

According to an MTS executive in Moscow speaking to Interfax, the company wants to regain its previous role as the leading telecom in Turkmenistan. Having already invested 1.5 million USD to reopen their network, they plan to spend another 40 million USD by 2015 — huge numbers for our supposedly “marginal” country. MTS also wants to tap into our country’s 3G network.

There are, inevitably, high expectations among the Turkmen public of MTS’ second coming. Will it become cheaper? Will Facebook, banned on Altyn Asyr networks, be accessible through the MTS network?

But we should perhaps be wary of this telecom-messiah: to regain signal rights, MTS has agreed to now pay 30% of its profit to the Turkmen state — which suggests that it will now be less independent than it was in the past.

From a free market perspective, MTS’s return may not really offer the much-needed competitive climate that would push the prices downward. Remember that MTS was more expensive than Altyn Asyr when it was first here.

And from a service perspective, my countrymen are skeptical that MTS’ return will have a profound impact upon our poor communication infrastructure — which has deteriorated significantly since they were last here in December 2010.

So, on the one hand, just about any positive impact is welcome. On the other hand, however, we would be wise not to expect many “miracles” for our long-standing communication problems.

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