A1 Belarus

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Unitary enterprise A1
Formerly
Mobile digital communication JV LLC, Unitary Enterprise velcom
Unitary Enterprise
IndustryTelecommunications
Founded30 July 1998 (commercial activities from 16 April 1999)
HeadquartersMinsk, Belarus
Key people
Helmut Duhs (CEO)
ProductsMobile and fixed connection services, online TV, entertainment content, ICT services
BrandsA1, VOKA
RevenueIncrease 426,1 million (2019)[1]
Increase 190,9 million (2019)[2]
Number of employees
~3000 people (as of the middle of 2019)
ParentA1 Telekom Austria Group (100%)
WebsiteA1.by

Unitary enterprise A1 (Belarusian: Унiтарнае прадпрыемства «А1», A1) is the largest private telecom, ICT & content service provider in Belarus.[3] The company provides GSM 900/1800, UMTS (WCDMA/HSDPA/HSUPA/HSPA+) and 4G (via beCloud) services. A1 is the second-largest mobile network operator in Belarus.[4] A1 also provides ADSL, Ethernet and GPON Internet access services in all regional centers of Belarus, as well as in Bobruisk, Zhlobin, Rechitsa, Svietlahorsk and Dobrush, and IPTV digital television services under the VOKA brand. Until August 2019, the company conducted operations under the brand name velcom.

History[edit]

Company's logo before rebranding in 2008

The company began commercial operations to provide mobile communications services and sell mobile communications devices on 16 April 1999 under the brand name JV LLC Mobile digital communication, and became the first GSM carrier in Belarus (the country's first cellular operator was the NMT carrier BelCel).

Ten base stations (nine in Minsk and one in Oreshniki on the way to the National Airport Minsk) had been launched by the time commercial operations started. By the summer of 2000, all regional cities of Belarus had been connected to the network. Mobile communications services were available on the Minsk-Brest-Orsha highway and in settlements along the road. Since 23 April 2007, mobile communications have been available to 100% of Belarus's urban population. In April 2019, the operator launched the first GSM network in the Polesye State Radiation-Ecological Reserve.[5]

On 15 March 2001, the operator subscribers were enabled to send and receive texts (SMS),[6] and in June 2005, Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) became available.

On 2 June 2003, the carrier launched the GPRS service. In December 2005, EDGE technology became available in three regions of Belarus.[7]

On 30 March 2006, the company became the country's first carrier to start testing the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology. The 3G network was rolled out in only 27 days. The commercial operation of the 3G network in Minsk and Gomel started on 17 March 2010.[8] In February 2016, the company became the country's first carrier to launch a 3G network in the 900 MHz band, and in May 2019, it further improved the capacity of its 3G network being the first operator to add a fourth RF carrier in the 2100 MHz band to its base stations.[9]

velcom logo in 2008—2019

In November 2007, the company became part of A1 Telekom Austria Group as a result of the acquisition of 70% (in November 2007) and then the remaining 30% (in October 2010) of shares. Starting in June 2019, A1 subscribers will be able to use the Internet at domestic prices in the networks of the A1 Telekom Austria Group operators.[10]

In May 2008, the company had a rebranding campaign, changing its logo and name to Unitary enterprise velcom.[11]

In May 2009, the carrier signed an exclusive agreement with LLC JV BelCel on the provision of CDMA2000 broadband Internet access services (EV-DO Rev.A). The services were provided up until 16 May 2013.[12]

In 2014, VOKA digital television was launched, construction of the company's proprietary data center began and the official online store was unveiled. In May, 2020 the company expanded online trade chains and opened the first online shop.[13]

By 2017, velcom had evolved into a major player in the Belarusian fixed-line communications market through the acquisition of a number of Internet providers. Also in 2017, the carrier became the world's first carrier to launch a commercial fully virtualized core network.

In 2017, the company was licensed to commercially launch Belarus's first Narrow Band Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network.[14] As of 2019, the technology is available in Minsk and all regional cities of Belarus.

Since April 2018, velcom subscribers have benefited from making Wi-Fi calls using the VoWiFi (Voiceover Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi Calling) technology.[15] In the summer of 2018, velcom in partnership with JSC Reshenie Bank and Visa international payment system launched the virtual V-BANKING (rebranded A1 Banking in August 2019) cash back card to pay for a broad range of services.

On 21 March 2019, A1 started to provide data services using 4G technology.[16] By the end of 2019, 4G network has become available to A1 subscribers in all major cities in the 1800 MHz band. In December 2019, the company announced about three-year strategic partnership with infrastructure operator beCloud aiming to develop 4G mobile communications standard in Belarus.[17] Starting from 2020, A1 will provide its infrastructure for base stations, as well as transport network based on hybrid communications lines, radio relays and fibre optic lines to make 4G network in the 800 MHz band available in rural areas.

On 8 April 2019, the company announced a rebranding campaign. It had been using the dual brand velcom | A1 in communications between April and August 2019. The single brand A1 is used since 12 August 2019.[18]

In April 2019, the company started providing free Wi-Fi Internet access in 18 electric trains of Belarusian Railway.[19] In June 2019, the operator launched 38 new base stations along the railway tracks to improve the quality of mobile communication service in trains.

From April to May 2019, the company made mobile communication service available in all the tunnels of the Maskoŭskaja and Aŭtazavodskaja lines of Minsk metro.[20][21]

On 12 August 2019, A1 introduced the first smartphone under its own brand named A1 Alpha. On the same day the company launched virtual eSIM cards and in the same November gave opportunity to transfer to online eSIM in the user account.[22]

On 12 November 2019, A1 took part in signing a joint Belarusian-Austrian Declaration on strengthening cooperation in the sphere of communications, IT technologies and 5G technology development.[23] A1 has applied for frequency allocation subject to the international standards of 5G and is currently developing the architecture of the 5G network. On May 22, 2020 A1 brought in test mode the first 5G SA network in Belarus in operation, created on the basis of standalone architecture.[24] On May 25, 2020 the first call in Belarus and the CIS was made on this network using the VoNR technology.[25]

In December 2019, А1 was the first in the country to implement the VoLTE (Voice over LTE) technology.[26]

On May 14, 2020 the company presented A1 Smart House system.[27]

Owners and management[edit]

Prior to January 2005, Cypriot SB Telecom controlled 69.9% of shares in velcom, CJSC Beltechexport and Republican Unitary Enterprise Beltelecom had 30% and 0.1%, respectively. In January 2005, the state bought into the company: it acquired a 30.9% stake, whereas SB Telecom had 49%, Beltechexport 20%, and Beltelecom 0.1%.

In August 2007, SB Telecom increased its shareholding to 100%, paying U.S. $556 million.[28]

At the beginning of October 2007, Austria's A1 Telekom Austria Group signed a purchase agreement to buy 70% in the carrier from SB Telecom,[29] and in October 2010, it bought the remaining stake of 30%.

Helmut Duhs is the CEO of A1 as of 2020.

Operations[edit]

Mobile communications[edit]

A1 provides GSM 900/1800, UMTS (WCDMA/HSDPA/HSUPA/HSPA+) and 4G services in Belarus.

Subscribers benefit from core services (voice communications, data transfer, SMS, MMS, voice mail, etc.), as well as additional services (roaming, business and entertainment services).

Subscriber numbers[edit]

  • +375 29 1 xx xx xx
  • +375 29 3 xx xx xx
  • +375 29 6 xx xx xx
  • +375 44 4 xx xx xx
  • +375 44 5 xx xx xx
  • +375 44 7 xx xx xx
  • +375 29 9 xx xx xx

Due to the introduction of the Mobile number portability (MNP) service in the Republic of Belarus, subscriber numbers can be as follows:

  • +375 25 xxx xx xx
  • +375 29 xxx xx xx
  • +375 33 xxx xx xx

Fixed-line communications[edit]

The company started building its own fiber-optic network for its corporate customers in September 2014.[30]

In 2016–2018, velcom completed a series of transactions to acquire Belarusian Internet service providers – Atlant Telecom (Minsk),[31] Aichyna Plus (Minsk),[32] Belinfonet (Minsk), Garant (Gomel[33] and Vitebsk[34]), Ranak Media (Svetlogorsk). Furthermore, Business Network (Delovaya Set) Internet provider transferred most of its private and some corporate subscribers to velcom (Minsk).[35]

Currently, A1 provides GPON, Ethernet and ADSL Internet access services in all regional centers of Belarus, as well as in Bobruisk, Dobrush, Rechitsa, Zhlobin, Novopolotsk and Svetlogorsk.

As of 30 June 2020, A1's fixed-line subscriber base was approximately 380,9 users.[1] Most of the operator's Internet access rates are package offers, i.e. they imply simultaneous subscription to digital television services under the VOKA brand.[36]

Video service VOKA[edit]

Video service from A1 is available under the VOKA brand. A1's fixed-line Internet users benefit from the IPTV service and enjoy more than 160 channels (including 47 HD channels).[37] VOKA is also available in the networks of other mobile and fixed-line operators with the use of the OTT technology and offers more than 140 television channels (including 39 HD channels). VOKA features diverse interactive functionality: pause, fast forward and reverse, archives of TV shows, as well as the function to continue watching on another device. Also available to all users are movies, cartoons and series provided by online streaming services MEGOGO, Amediateka, START, ivi, The Walt Disney Studios movies and cartoons. The service is accessible from Android and iOS mobile devices, Smart TV running on Tizen, WebOS, Android TV, on RedboxMini, Xiaomi Mi Box 3, Apple TV (via AirPlay) boxes. Desktop users can access the video service via the VOKA application for Windows or on the website.

In 2018, VOKA launched proprietary media content: "Our Football" and "Our Hockey" offering broadcasts of games with Belarusian clubs and national teams, live streaming of concerts, music festivals, conferences and forums, as well as cyber sports tournaments in the section "Cybersport". Also available for users is CINEVOKA – Movies in Belarusian, a collection of popular movies with professional voice overs in the Belarusian language.[38] Since June 2019, ideo service users can watch popular HBO TV-series in Belarusian: the first season of the Sex and the City TV-series, the Chernobyl mini-series and the final season of the Games of Thrones series.

In 2018, video service began to produce their own content. So, in the section VOKA SHOW you can find reviews, mini-reality and TV-shows created exclusively for the platform.

On 28 January 2019, the VOKA video service presented the country's largest Ultra-High-Definition (4K) content library[.[39]

VOKA CINEMA[edit]

In August 2017, the VOKA CINEMA multiplex (until 12 August 2019 was called velcom cinema) was unveiled in partnership with the Silver Screen cinema chain. The facility includes seven high-tech movie theaters.[40]

The Silver ART project for art house enthusiasts has been available at VOKA CINEMA since 2018.[41]

In August 2019, the VOKA CINEMA unveiled Eastern Europe's first 270-degree ScreenX cinema screen offering panoramic visual.[42]

In September 2019, VOKA and Silver Screen launched the joint project Tuteishyn Studio to translate movie premieres into the Belarusian language.[43] Zeroville and The Wedding Year were the first to be dubbed.

VOKA Smartfilm[edit]

Since 2010, A1 in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus has held the annual mobile film festival. In 2016, it became an international event.[44] Every year, the film festival sees the number of entrants and countries grow consistently. In 2020, the ninth International Mobile Film Festival VOKA Smartfilm took place, with its competitive program encompassing 356 short-length films from 75 countries.[45]

Esports[edit]

In February 2020, the Belarusian Esports Federation Republican Public Association was established and registered with the assistance of A1.[46] On April 17, 2020 the Belarusian Computer Sport Association (BCSA) was registered.[47] BCSA members are A1, VOKA video service, and the Belarusian Computer Sport Federation. Association was created to promote esports in Belarus, develop and support professional players, coaches and referees, hold competitions and further international contacts.

On May 4, 2020 the first cybersport mobile online games match was held on the A1’s 5G SA test network. While testing, the data transfer speed was 1.2 Gbit/s, ping speed 10 milliseconds.[48]

Data centre and ICT services[edit]

In September 2017, the company launched one of the country's largest data centers in Minsk. With an area of 7,500 square meters, the center took more than 2 years to build and cost U.S. $20 million.[49]

The A1 data center's Tier III Uptime Institute (UI) Design and Facility certificate attests to its failsafe operation. The center's four modules are designed for 800 server racks and have an optical ring of their own – 43 kilometers of network with a capacity of 1 Tbit/sec. To date, the 1st 200-rack module has been put into operation.

Currently, the data center provides the following services: server and network equipment colocation, lease of virtual resources for IT infrastructure (VMware platform-based IaaS), data backup and recovery (Baas based on Veeam Backup and Restore products), lease of server and network equipment (HaaS), Veeam Cloud Connect-based cloud storage, Exoscale-based voblaka virtual infrastructure, as well as the use of Microsoft software products on a subscription basis and extended technical support and maintenance of Oracle databases.

In March 2019, security services were added to the range of functionality available to users. The A1 data center was certified by the Operational and Analytical Center under the President of the Republic of Belarus and launched the Cloud-62 service designed for legal entities working with confidential information with a high protection status.[50]

In August 2019, the A1 data center successfully confirmed the compliance certificate with the international standard ISO 27001.[51] In May, 2020 A1 confirmed compliance with the state standard of the Republic of Belarus ISO/IEC 27001-2016.[52]

Solar power plant[edit]

In the summer of 2016, velcom launched a solar power plant comprising 85,000 solar panels.[53] near Bragin (Gomel Region). The plant was built in the area that was affected by the Chernobyl disaster and is therefore unfit for agriculture. To connect all of the solar modules, velcom laid about 800 km of cable lines.

In October 2017, velcom launched the first solar-powered base communications station in Belarus in the Luban District of the Minsk Region.[54]

Statistics[edit]

As of 30 June 2020, the company had more than 4.864 million mobile subscribers. Some 380,9 users were subscribed to fixed-line Internet and TV services. The company's share in the country's mobile communications market stood at 42%.[1]

2G is available on 97.7% of the territory of the country with 99.9% of the population (100% of urban residents). 3G is available on 97.1% of the country's territory. As of June 2010, the company operated 3,301 base stations and 28,754 transmitter receivers in 1,360 settlements across the country,[55] as well as eight switches: three in Minsk and one in each regional center.

The company's subscribers benefit from international roaming services in 191 countries of the world in 382 carriers' networks.[56] Unitary Enterprise A1 has a proprietary network of sales centers consisting of 90 offices in 32 cities of Belarus.[57] The dealer network includes more than 500 mobile shops throughout the country.

Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Wireless Subscribers, mln (Mobile Market Share) 3,059 (43,4%[1]) 3,698 (44,8%[1]) 4,102 (42,7%[1]) 4,354 (41,9%[1]) 4,620 (41,1%[1]) 4,800 (43,5%[1]) 4,947 (42,5%[1])
Mobile Penetration 71,5% 85,1% 99,4% 109,6% 118,8% 116,6% 123,0%
Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Wireless Subscribers, mln (Mobile Market Share) 4,950 (42,4%[1]) 4,956 (42,5%[1]) 4,945 (43,2%[1]) 4,864 (42,5%[1]) 4,873 (42%[1]) 4,890 (41,8%[1])
Mobile Penetration 123,3% 123,0% 120,3% 120,5% 122,4% 123,8 %
Fixed Access Lines, mln 0,179 0,306 0,452 0,389

The company's revenue (according to international financial statements) for the second quarter of 2020 reached EUR 98.3 million, EBITDA was at EUR 45.2 million.

In 2019, the company's revenue amounted to BYN 997 million, EBITDA – BYN 446.8 million.[1]

Year Revenues, € mln EBITDA, € mln EBITDA Margin Operating Income, € mln Capex
2011 260,9 106,6 40,9% −255,2 44,9
2012 301,2 124,4 41,3% 29,5 43,7
2013 331,7 155,9 47,0% 71,6 34,0
2014 355,0 172,4 48,6% 82,2 48,5
2015 332,2 163,7 49,3% 86,6 66,1
2016 321,0 151,5 47,2% 87,8 73,7
2017 390,5 181,3 46,4% 123,1 47,1
2018 389,3 163,8 42,1% 87,6 49,7
2019 426,1 190,9 44,8 % 100,7 105,1

Corporate social responsibility[edit]

The list of A1 priorities as a socially responsible business includes assistance to children, support for national self-identification and the environment.[58]

Helping children[edit]

A1 has supported people with autism since 2015. In 2016, the "i" Family Inclusive Theatre was established at the Pushkaryova Studio as a joint initiative of Children. Autism. Parents international charity and velcom | A1. The carrier provides financial and informational support for the project as its general partner. Since 2016, velcom | A1 has been involved in the annual international campaign Light It Up Blue held on 2 April to support people with autism.[59]

The #velcombegom charity project is one of the company's biggest social initiatives: every year since 2015, two or three campaigns have been held.[60] The mission is to help children's health care institutions, promote healthy lifestyles, and popularize running. The beneficiaries of the campaign included national medical rehabilitation centers for children, a boarding school for disabled children with special needs, and other medical institutions for children. Throughout the project, more than BYN 700,000 in financial support has been transferred to beneficiaries. In 2018, the #velcombegom Running Cities campaign won the best healthy lifestyle nomination of the Eventiada IPRA Golden World Awards 2018.[61]

The I see! project has been implemented by company since 2016 till 2020 in cooperation with the Belarusian Children's Fund with the support of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus. The objective of the project is to assist in the timely diagnosis and detection of early visual impairments in school-age children residing in rural areas. Over the past four years, 35 ophthalmologists visited 693 schools in the Mogilev, Gomel, Brest and Vitebsk regions and tested 51,474 schoolchildren.[62] When the project was close to its conclusion, the "I See!” graphic novel was prepared and published with the participation of the Modern Comics creative association.[63]

In September 2019, А1 became a general sponsor of Junior football school. The sponsorship involves several directions for development of children and youth sport, including creation of the A1 Junior brand and purchase of the new equipment for the club’s players.[64]

On December 28, 2019 A1 was the general partner of the Viennese Ball held in the Palace of Independence. Following the results of the event, the company provided financial assistance to the civic association “SOS Children's Villages Belarus”.[65]

On June 23, 2020 A1 and the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus started the charitable sport action “100 hours with А1: Support TEAM BY!”.[66] Following the results of the action, A1 will provide financial assistance to the Republican children palliative medicine clinical center.

Support for the Belarusian language and culture[edit]

A1 supports initiatives encouraging the interest in the Belarusian national heritage, traditions, history, culture and art.

In 2016–2019, the company conducted a joint project with Kinakong, entitled Belarusian Weekends. During that period, more than 20 movies were translated and dubbed into Belarusian. More than 50,000 viewers have enjoyed these movies in Belarusian in more than 60 movie theaters of the country.[67]

In 2018, velcom launched the velcom YOUTH social and outreach project for high school students who want to make a difference in this world. The project was launched in partnership with the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Belarus and the organizers of the TEDx Minsk conferences. The first season featured over 800 contestants[68] from 230 secondary schools across the country. All of the velcom YOUTH communications (from the application to the presentation of the project in the finals) are in the Belarusian language. The final of the project was held on 18 May 2019 as TEDxYouth@Minsk.

In October 2019, Pershiya project was initiated by А1 with support of conference organisers "TEDxMinsk".[69] More than 1,000 school students from all over Belarus took part in educational workshops. More than 100 of them sent their video presentations to enter the contest. The panel of judges selected 10 finalists who will publicly present their socially significant ideas at the TEDxYouth@Minsk conference.[70]

In 2019-2020, A1 became the general partner of the 100th season of the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre.[71] The partnership helped organize a free live broadcast of the theatre’s iconic performances via the VOKA video service, including "Radio Prudok", "Two Souls", "The People of the Marsh","Paulinka"and other.[72]

In October 2019, A1 together with the Belarusian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Center and the Museum of the History of the Vitebsk People’s Art College launched the project #UNOVIS100[73] in honor of the 100th anniversary of the UNOVIS art association. On 15 February 2020, the National Art Museum of Belarus opened Belarus’s first ever exhibition of the suprematist artist Lazar Khidekel "We Will Be Understood in 100 Years".[74]

On February 21, 2020 A1 presented the project “LANGUAGE” (“МОВА”), in terms of which interactive art installations are being set up in the biggest cities of the country.[75] From May till July, sculptures in form of letters which serve as street furniture and make up together the word МОВА were installed in Gomel, Brest, Mogilyov, Vitebsk and Grodno.[76] The project is being implemented in liaison with the initiative “Native language nobility”.

Ecology[edit]

In 2020, the social campaign “Get in touch with nature” was launched by A1 and the public organization “APB-BirdLife Belarus”.[77] Since May 21st, everyone who wishes to do so may call on special phone numbers to birds and listen to them chirping.

In June-July, 2020, the competition “Sunlight energy for the Green schools” was held, an ecological project by A1 in cooperation with the Ministry of natural resources and environment protection of the Republic of Belarus, Ministry of education of the Republic of Belarus, and the UN Development Program in Belarus.[78] As a result of this contest, 7 “Green schools” were chosen, one from each Belarusian region and form Minsk. In these schools, panels for transforming solar energy into electricity will be installed.

Work of A1 during the COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

In March, 2020 A1 started the initiative #оставайсяонлайн (#stayonline) in order to support its subscribers and the population as COVID-19 spread.[79][80]

Since the initiative #оставайсяонлайн (#stayonline) was launched, the company has rendered financial assistance to the City of Minsk clinical infection hospital as well as provided the doctors with smartphones and a free work mobile connection. The company has created a USSD-number and a short number for philanthropic contributions in favour of medical workers. Ministry of health hotline calls concerning the coronavirus infection calls on the numbers of diplomatic missions abroad for its subscribers in roaming, hotline calls for victims of domestic violence and information line calls for senior citizens were made free.[81]

Criticism and security[edit]

In July 2016, the human rights organization Amnesty International accused A1 Belarus of involvement in spying on Belarusian citizens. According to a report by human rights activists, the company provides the Belarusian authorities with virtually unlimited access to its clients' conversations and their data. A1 Telekom Austria Group responded to the allegations by referring to the fact that it only complies with the country's law.[82]

The operator does not adhere to data protection regulations known customers yet. So, on the eve of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic in March 2017, the operator blocked the smartphones of the Belarusian politician Mikola Statkevich and transferred his passwords for Facebook and Viber.[83]

On August 23, 2020, during a rally in Minsk, all Belarusian mobile operators had problems with mobile Internet.[84] According to A1 Belarus, this was made at the request of state bodies to ensure national security.[85] The cyclic blackouts of the Internet continued in the following weeks and months.[86] In the report of the Belarusian human rights organization “Human Constanta,” such termination of work was equated with a violation of human rights, because it actually is “the dispersal of a peaceful demonstration, just online.”[87]

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