Arik Hesseldahl

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A Look at Mobile Markets in Russia and Latin America

domingo_hecker1Imagine a wireless market that has the characteristics of both the developed world and the developing world. That’s exactly what Russia is, and it’s what Michael Hecker, vice president of strategy, M&A and corporate development for Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), Russia’s largest wireless carrier, deals with every day.

MTS sells iPhones to rich people in the Russian capital of Moscow, but sells lower-end phones that bring in lower revenues in other markets throughout the country. That brings certain opportunities. For one thing, MTS has bought its way into banking. Russia, Hecker said, is “underbanked and [has] a low number of consumers with credit cards.” But MTS, he said, “has enough ingredients to make banking successful.”

Hecker appeared with Carlos Domingo, who has been spearheading numerous efforts for Spain-based Telefonica, and both gave a glimpse of the market conditions in their parts of the world in a joint interview with Ina Fried at D: Dive Into Mobile in New York.

Telefonica is also active in several markets in Latin America, where the mix of available devices varies quite a bit from the typical iPhone-Android mix seen in the U.S. BlackBerry devices are still popular, though they are quickly giving way to low-end Android devices. And Nokia still sells a fair number of devices running its Symbian 30 operating system in Latin America.

Regarding the forthcoming open source mobile operating system from Mozilla, Domingo said consumers still carrying an older feature phone may find it attractive when they’re ready to upgrade to their first smartphone. “We think consumers will buy the device if it brings value to them,” he said.

In that same spirit, Hecker said MTS puts a lot of effort into promoting Windows Phone, if only to prevent the onset of a true duopoly between Google and Apple. “Windows Phone is still a tough sell,” he said. “We believe we need to push it; no one else out there is going to. … If we don’t support it, we’ll have a duopoly until the end of days.”

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