Global Telephony / November 1995
By Larry Luxner
Until very recently, making phone calls within Buenos Aires was difficult enough -- but getting through to the rest of Argentina was even more of a challenge. Now, not one but two companies -- Scientific-Atlanta and Ericsson -- have been given the green light to provide sophisticated cellular and PCS coverage throughout the vast region.
The first, Scientific-Atlanta, says its Skylinx digital telephony system will enable Compañía de Teléfonos del Interior S.A. to build a cellular network covering one million square miles of Argentine territory outside the Buenos Aires metropolitan area.
The CTI consortium, $12 million venture owned by GTE, AT&T, Clarín Group, Morgan Grenfell and Banco Frances & Trust Co., has an exclusive concession to establish its cellular network throughout rural Argentina, in which Scientific-Atlanta's Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA) telephony equipment will be installed in more than 300 remote sites to provide voice and data connectivity to a Scientific-Atlanta 6-meter network central hub antenna in Córdoba, with C-band transponder space leased on Mexico's Solidaridad satellite.
"We've used this equipment for other applications, but this is the first time we've merged satellite communications with cellular telephony," said Ray Lung, managing director of Latin American sales for Scientific-Atlanta, in an interview with Global Telephony. "Basically, Skylinx is a DAMA product and is traditionally used for voice communications over satellite. What's new is using that same equipment in a cellular network. The advantage to the user is the ability to deploy the network quickly. It's a vast area, so the ability to put a satellite there is a big advantage."
Lung says the project has clearly defined phases, though he declined to elaborate on those phases "for competitive reasons."
Michael Joseph, CTI's chief operating officer, said in a prepared statement that his consortium selected Scientific-Atlanta "for its ability to deploy a technically superior, large network in a relatively short time frame." Added John Mann, Scientific-Atlanta's vice-president of worldwide sales: "There is no cellular service available to the more than 20 million Argentines who live outside the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Our Skylinx network will enable CTI to quickly establish its cellular network to provide reliable telephone service to other population centers, as well as isolated or remote areas across the country."
The CTI network -- which won its license for cellular coverage in the interior in 1993 and began service a year later -- will use VSAT antennas to provide voice and data services to virtually any location in Argentina. Scientific-Atlanta, which defeated California's Satellite Technology Management and Maryland's Hughes Network Systems for the lucrative CTI contract, says its Skylinx system should be fully operational by year's end.
Separately, Sweden's Ericsson has won a $200 million contract to build a nationwide digital and analog AMPS cellular network along with two cellular operators -- Telefónica Comunicaciones Personales (TCP) and Compañía de Comunicaciones Personales del Interior (CCPI) -- that will initially serve 200,000 Argentine subscribers and should be operational by March 1996.
Ericsson will also expand the Movistar cellular telephone network in the Buenos Aires metro area to offer mobile phone service to the 13 million people in northern Argentina served by CCPI and the eight million in southern Argentina served by TCP.
Nicolas Barbuto, sales manager for Movistar, says his company has already invested $172 million in its network, which has 110,000 cellular customers. This works out to around 42% of the market, and an average use of 250 minutes per month per customer. (Movistar's sole competitor in the Buenos Aires market is Movicom, which has 150 cell sites serving 160,000 subscribers.)
Sometime between December 1995 and March 1996, the Argentine government is expected to call for bids for PCS licenses covering the federal district and greater Buenos Aires, though Pérez says terms are not yet defined, and that "the whole process has been delayed."
Kathy Egan, a spokeswoman for Ericsson, says the company's IS-136 network will be fully digital, providing high-capacity, enhanced features and expanded serves in conjunction with network operators France Telecom, Italy's STET and Telefónica Internacional de España, which own interests in Argentina's two long-distance telcos.
In addition, Allen Telecom Group -- a unit of The Allen Group of Beachwood, Ohio -- has won its own contract to supply Ericsson with $17 million worth of repeaters, battery backup systems and related equipment for roughly 30% of Ericsson's geographic coverage area.