Altimo ends disputes to set sail as more competitive telecoms player

2009 has seen the Alfa Group’s telecoms arm, Altimo, end two long term disputes with the outcome being a larger more competitive access to overseas markets.

It was far beyond the expectations of even the boldest analysts. After five years of legal battles and PR wars, Vimpelcom’s main shareholders found common ground.

It settles a simmering conflict of interest as Vimpelcom and Kievstar competed on the Ukraininan market. The result is a new company Vimpelcom Limited. Norwegian telecoms company Telenor merged its stakes in Vimpelcom and Kievstar – with those of investment group Alfa. Altimo CEO, Aleksey Reznikovich hailed the outcome.

“We manage to put this all behind, we are now on the same page. And we are getting back to a normal partnership mode of operation.”

The new company will be the biggest emerging markets operator in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Listed in New York, it will neighbor another Russian operator Megafon that merged with a Turkish mobile company in late 2009.

It once again involved Alfa Group, and settled a turf war by merging stakes in Megafon and Turkcell with the Nordic operator TeliaSonera. The mergers gave operators access to foreign customers and better growth potential than its closest rival MTS.

The number three mobile company is weighing its options according to CEO, Mikhail Shamolin.

“We are not planning any changes in strategy for the time being. But if we see certain changes on the market that could influence us we’ll look into the issue. So far we hear only about property restructuring.”

2010 may bring further developments. Mobile firm SkyLink, partly owned by state-controlled telecoms giant Svyazinvest, merges with one of the big three operators.