CosmOTE adds capacity

CosmOTE, Greece’s largest wireless phone company, is beefing up network capacity for the Summer Olympics in Athens, expecting higher roaming revenues and the launch of mobile Internet connections to boost earnings, its chief executive said yesterday. «The network is going through a large increase in capacity, we’ll be able to meet the needs of the Games,» Evangelos Martigopoulos told Reuters in an interview. «It will be the first time that (high speed) 2.5G and 3G (technology) services are tested during the Olympics.» CosmOTE, with annual revenues of 1.35 billion euros ($1.70 billion) last year and a current market value of 3.98 billion, has doubled the voice traffic forecasts of Athens 2004 Games Organizers and set an additional safety margin to its network’s capacity increase. The mobile operator, which has the largest network in Greece with more than 2,700 base stations, expects the installation of telecoms equipment at sports venues to be completed by May, allowing for a two-month testing period. CosmOTE is also set to roll out a mobile Internet service by June this year, ahead of the Games in August, based on NTT DoCoMo’s «i-mode,» which enabled the Japanese firm to offer easy Web access via cell phones in 1999. «We have high expectations, judging by its success in Japan. With i-mode, we’ve teamed up with the best player in its class,» said Martigopoulos, who pursued the idea after being impressed during a trip to Japan. This year marks a true test for long-delayed third-generation services in Europe, four years after operators hurt their balance sheets by paying more than 100 billion euros for the new high-speed network licenses. Wireless pictures, music, even small-screen TVs are primed to go mainstream. Martigopoulos said the new service is expected to boost CosmOTE’s average revenue per user (ARPU) – 29.5 euros last year – by six to 10 euros, based on the recent experience of other European i-mode operators. CosmOTE delivered sales growth of 13 percent last year with net profits rising 10.4 percent to 253 million euros. Martigopoulos said CosmOTE, 59 percent owned by OTE Telecom, will raise its 2003 dividend per share but declined to give a figure. The company paid a dividend of 0.35 euros per share in 2002. He would not rule out a special dividend in 2004. «We’ll satisfy our shareholders in 2004… Our target is to outperform the sector’s average growth rate in Europe every year.» CosmOTE competes against Panafon, Stet Hellas and Q-Telecom in the Greek market. (Reuters)