The EBRD is lending the Uzbek GSM mobile phone network operator Unitel US$30mn in an effort to make mobile communication services more affordable and accessible to a greater part of the Uzbek population. The bank already holds a 7% stake in the private, Greek-owned company.
Unitel, which has 106,000 subscribers and a market share of 25%, will use the funds to extend its network and introduce services, such as pre-pay, not yet available in the country. Only 1.5% of Uzbeks so far use mobile phones. By making mobile services more affordable, Unitel aims to capture the lower income segment of the market.
The loan is consistent with the bank’s strategy for Uzbekistan, which on account of slow progress in political and economic reforms stresses private sector project finance, particularly for such critical infrastructure as telecoms.
Unitel is owned by Germanos, the leading Greek retail network of mobile service and equipment centres; Panos Germanos; and the EBRD.
Germanos, listed on the Athens Stock Exchange, has a network of about 300 outlets in Greece and more than 400 in central and eastern Europe.