Rumors dispelled: Richard Branson’s mobile business still alive in Russia – and “expanding aggressively”
In an exchange with East-West Digital News, a top official of Virgin Connect has denied the rumors circulating in the Russian press that Virgin is shutting down its mobile projects in Russia.
Virgin’s founder and chairman Richard Branson was reported to be “definitely upset with Russia” and his local company had supposedly dropped plans to develop further WiMAX networks and launch an MVNO.
The allegations were voiced by the daily newspaper Izvestia, followed by the bilingual telecom industry news resource ComNews.ru, with references to unnamed sources “from competing companies.”
Virgin Connect’s Chief Commercial Officer Fred Ledbetter offered a different view of his company’s state of affairs, saying he was very happy with its “25% growth over the last 18 months in both [our] B2B and B2C customer base [in Russia].” He did not disclose subscriber numbers, however, “as a matter of company policy and the competitive situation.”
Moreover, Virgin Connect is currently using the funds it secured last year from EBRD “to grow both through M&A and through organic growth,” Ledbetter said.
Far from abandoning its MVNO plans, Virgin Connect “has been meeting with the main mobile operators [and] discussing what the Virgin MVNO model might be like,” the CCO told EWDN. He described these talks as “current and active work.”
A start-up rather than a huge operator
Ledbetter conceded that his company had lost some employees – which Izvestia’s sources represented as signaling the company’s agony – but no more than what is “natural for a company.”
“Virgin Connect is closer to a start-up than it is to a stable, huge operator,” he explained. “Sometimes employees find that the start-up and entrepreneurial experience is not right for them and they choose to leave. Over all, we are very happy with our management team and with our cadre.”
Asked whether his company would stick to the pre-WiMAX and WiMAX technologies in light of the fast development of LTE and FTTx, Ledbetter described his company as being “technology agnostic,” with a focus on delivering high-quality service in specific areas.
“We utilize our existing broadband wireless experience and often can connect our customers at less cost and in a much more timely manner using wireless last mile. We also use FTTx technologies where available, but [we] will use legacy technologies when and if the situation makes sense.”