INTERVIEW: Isik Uman, general manager of leading Turkish service provider Retromedya, talks to about the rapidly changing mobile market in Turkey.
With 3G going live this summer, the nation’s 66 million mobile subscribers are expected to take full advantage of new services – making it an appealing prospect for operators and service providers.

Turkish consumers love their mobiles. As one of the fastest growing mobile markets in recent years, wireless penetration currently sits at 92 per cent.

That’s pretty impressive – especially as Turkey doesn’t have handset subsidies.

People buy their mobile phones and then choose their operator.

Isik Uman, general manager of leading Turkish service provider Retromedya, said increasingly that decision is being driven by the demand for richer content – something that has progressed as rapidly as improvements to handsets and mobile networks.

Build-up To 3G

The potential for content is going to get even more interesting this summer when Turkey’s 3G network kicks in.

And there is no shortage of hardware ready to use it.

Even without handset subsidies, Uman said there were around 3.5 million 3G phones already being used in Turkey.

"That’s 3.5 million potential users for it," he said.

While there are no official figures, an estimated 300,000 iPhones have been sold in Turkey since it launched last summer.

On top of that sales of other high-end handsets from HTC and Nokia – which has a 60 per cent share of the mobile market in Turkey – are strong.

All this makes the country one of the more attractive markets for handset manufacturers.

That is likely to continue as 3G is rolled out – with all the opportunities that will bring.

Competition Intensifies

The development is expected to pit operators head-to-head, with 3G and a host of new services – including LBS – being used as the hook with which to lure customers.

As a result – and despite the global economic situation – Turkey’s mobile operators are projecting Turkish Lira-based growth this year.

The country’s three GSM operators – Turkcell (37m subscribers), Vodafone (17m subscribers) and Avea (12m subscribers) – earned between them an estimated 13 billion Turkish Liras (approx. USD $10 billion) in 2008.

But as Turkey is a large country – and requires a lot of base stations to provide coverage – average revenue per user (ARPU) is between USD $11-14.

This hasn’t affected competition among the operators, which is fierce – especially following the introduction of mobile number portability in Turkey last November.

More than 1 million subscribers have changed operator since it became available.

The ability for users to switch operator has also led to the adoption of new marketing strategies from the operators, including the introduction of a subsidy-like model to retain or lure valuable customers.

"Before we had number portability, people like business professionals, company owners, doctors, lawyers and so on didn’t want to change their mobile numbers," said Uman. "It just wasn’t acceptable.

"Now with number portability, we will see subsidised handsets being used as a means to lure lucrative customers."

Uman said it was also likely that flat-rate data tariffs would become more common when 3G goes live.

He said this would obviously benefit service providers such as Retromedya.

"We are counting on this as it will make our services more attractive and easier to use," he said.

Retromeyda already offers content to all three operators in the form of:

  • music services
  • video content – downloading on-demand video
  • mobile games
  • interactive voting
  • mobile community and chat

As well as providing consumer services, Retromedya also offers B2B gateway services to third party players in the market.

Uman said these were white label services to companies that want to provide mobile services in Turkey.

"We believe this year will be very interesting for the Turkish market," he said.

"Commercial services will be very important and offer a big opportunity, which we are trying to address."

Uman said there had been a lot of interest in Retromedya at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

He said this was a reflection on the potential revenue prospects Turkey’s mobile market offered service providers.

"We provide the infrastructure for them so they can quickly introduce their services and operations," he said.

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