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You Think AT&T-Mo is Bad? Check out Turkmenistan’s Mobile Debacle

While we in the U.S. ponder the implications if AT&T successfully buys T-Mobile and takes the U.S. down to a mere three carriers, the citizens of Turkmenistan are suddenly faced with only one carrier, after one of its two operators went out of business. Now, Altyn Asyr, the state-owned cell phone provider in Turkmenistan apparently is facing such high demand for its limited SIM cards that in larger cities military forces have been called in to restore order to the mobs seeking to buy access. Telegeography, a research firm covering broadband, reports that the demand for a voice connection skyrocketed after the Turkmeni government refused a licence to Altyn Asyr’s Russian-owned rival, MTS Turkmenistan.

The development comes hot on the heels of reports last week which alleged that Turkmen president Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov had claimed that ‘bungling’ at the operations of TM-Cell [Altyn Asyr] was harming the efficiency of the state-owned cellco. As noted in TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, [Altyn Asyr] had an estimated subscriber base of 610,000 at the end of 2010, less than a quarter of the 2.7 million former MTS customers that are now seeking service from the only cellco in operation.

According to The Journal of Turkish Weekly, Altyn Asyr’s customers were already unhappy with its service, so the influx of more than 2 million new customers isn’t a welcome development. Regardless, those seeking a mobile connection will have to wait until May unless they are a government official or a foreigner, according to the Turkish paper. So, I suppose if the FCC and Department of Justice get set to review AT&T’s $39 billion buy of T-Mobile, a deal that effectively creates a duopoly between AT&T and Verizon that would control 76.4 percent of the U.S. mobile market, this country north of Afghanistan might provide a cautionary tale about too much consolidation.

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